Movie Review: McGregor goes dark for “Son of a Gun”

You’ve never seen Ewan McGregor quite like this — all sadistic, ruthless and what not.
In “Son of a Gun,” he plays Brendan, an escaped convict who busts out of the joint, does a job and is double-crossed. And Brendan isn’t pleased with what he must do to the henchmen of the guy who double-crossed him, all that “shouting” and pleading.
“It’s all, ‘Oh please Nooo,'” he purrs in that once-sweet Scottish burr. “‘NOT the thumbs! I’m just learnin’ the piano!”
Brendan, as we’ve seen, is capable of just about anything.
“Son of a Gun” is a quite conventional Australian prison thriller that morphs into a heist picture. McGregor isn’t the lead, that’s the young Brendan Thwaites of “Maleficent,” an Aussie hunk who plays a kid, J.R., whom Brendan takes under his protection in prison. Upon getting out, J.R. finds himself drawn into the criminal underworld where Brendan was more at home, where the Russian mobster Sam (Jacek Koman) presides.
The kid and the older con are hurled into a not-quite-impossible heist. And the kid falling for Sam’s skinny Euro-stripper arm candy, Tasha (Alicia Vikander) will be the least of their difficulties.
Writer-director Julius Avery put much of his energy into cooking up character traits and illustrating them. Brendan and J.R. are both avid chess buffs. No real explanation how or why, they just know all about “sacrificial pawns” and Bobby Fischer’s use of the “Son of My Sorrow” strategy.
J.R. cannot swim, which makes his courtship of the streetwise Tasha wet and salty.
Thwaites is OK in a role that demands mostly passivity out of him, and Vikander (“Anna Karenina”) is slinky temptation incarnate.
But McGregor is the one with his work cut out for him here, looking tough amongst veteran Australian screen toughs, swapping hardbitten lines with the best of them.
“When’d they let you out?”
“They DIDN’T.”
The milieu — coastal-industrial Australia — is interesting, with its stoner arms dealers and crazed thugs of every age. But what sells “Son of a Gun” is McGregor’s presence and performance, a guy using and mentoring a gullible but gutsy young man, trying to impart the wisdom of the wizened con to the kid.
“You do NOT bend the rules for a piece of skirt!”
Start to finish, tattoos to two-fisted punchouts, we totally buy him as a hardcase. And to think he’s always seemed so…sweet.

MPAA Rating: unrated, with bloody violence, nudity and profanity

Cast: Brendan Thwaites, Ewan McGregor, Alicia Vikander

Credits: Written and directed by Julius Avery. An a24 release.

Running time: 1:48

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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