Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 08, 2014 2:19 pm 
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Moral agonies of a compromised Aussie cop

The Australian film Felony begins with a big drug raid where one officer, Malcolm Toohey (Joel Edgerton, who stars and wrote the script) emerges as a bit of a hero, taking a bullet that lodges in his protective vest. There's a bar party of the cops to celebrate their exploit. Mal drives home alone drunk. He dodges an alcohol road test using a police password and his badge. Further on, out of it, he grazes a boy on a bike. The boy falls and hits his head on the road. Mal stops and reports the boy, who lies unconscious, but conceals that it was his car that caused the injury. Other police details that follow, about a pedophile case and more drug arrests, are local color from here on: the main topic becomes the boy, Mal's guilt, and a coverup. Edgerton's screenplay uses familiar trappings to delve into new, thoughtful territory. Mind you, though Edgerton was a player in the awesome Aussie crime movie Animal Kingdom and the same production collective is involved, this is milder, more conventional stuff than that. But its issues and debates are tense and exciting in their way.

Mal faced a terrible choice because he is guilty of a crime but if he confesses to it he'll likely do jail time and lose his career, and he has a wife and little boy. The issues are complicated by the arrival of Detective Carl Summer (Tom Wilkinson, the outstanding cast member here, doing an Aussie accent), an alcoholic on the wagon and a cynic, who immediately posts his new young straight-arrow partner Jim Melic (Jai Courtney) on the periphery so he can talk turkey with Mal. He sizes up the situation (later we learn all was spelled out in more detail than is shown us at first) and urges Mal to stick to his story of being a witness, concocting a car paused at the scene that pulled away when he drew up.

But later Jim proves a fly in the ointment. A single man with no close ties to Mal or Carl, he visits the boy in a coma and meets his mother Ankhila (Sarah Roberts), to whom he feels an attraction. (He violates police ethics himself in trying to get involved with her.) Jim increasingly feels that Mal got off too easy, and wants him thoroughly questioned and a forensic test done on his car. He does not hesitate to face Carl about this issue. This leads to repeated confrontations between Jim and Carl. Meanwhile Mal feeks increasingly tormented by guilt, to the point where he confesses to his wife (Melissa George), who supports him, but also condemns him. Ironically, Ankhila remains grateful to Mal, as well as to Jim.

Carl, whose rage when a judge releases his pedophile on parole leads him to go back to drinking, tells Mal he's just going to feel a little guilt for a while, but the tradeoff will make it worth it. He'll suffer, but he doesn't need to let down the force and his family by going to jail. "Prison is for pricks that don't have their punishment here," he says, pointing to his head. But wait a minute, mate. You've committed a felony. If Carl were considered the voice of the movie, it would seem to be going in a dangerous direction. And things get a bit too complicated toward the end, Edgerton throwing in one too many plot twists. Felony ends with a muddle that's not entirely satisfying. This likely was Edgerton's aim. But while his face expresses a world of pain, he may go a little too easy on his own character and may imply cops have options other mortals don't get. Clearly the director Matthew Saville has worked well with all these actors. This film looks more ordinary than it is.

Felony, 105 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept. 2013. It was screened for this review as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center series Film Comment Selects Monday, Feb. 17, 2013. US theatrical release 17 October 2014.

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