A prison breakout meets a thriller, heist movie and gritty drama in Australian director Julius Avery’s debut feature, Son of a Gun, starring Ewan McGregor, Alicia Vikander and Brenton Thwaites.
The punchy action starts with pretty boy JR (Thwaites) in prison, having to make a choice – be a sex slave for disturbed hairy inmates or get protection from notorious criminal Brendan Lynch (McGregor) in return for a favour… a big favour.
JR finds himself at the centre of a prison breakout, and then a dusty chase through Western Australia. “Crime films of this nature usually are set in quite a more urban kinda shitty place,” explains Avery. “I felt like West Australia, where I’m from, is somewhere that hadn’t been explored like this before, it’s got a particular vibe to it, a different feel. There’s never been a crime film set in Perth or Kalgoorlie.”
The derserty backdrop certainly stands out in Son of a Gun, and Avery is expecting an increased footfall, despite the dark nature of the movie. “Whenever someone gets taken by a crocodile up north it doesn’t turn away tourists, actually you get more tourists,” says Avery, who believes his film sticks to genre conventions but has a fresh feel, thanks to the location.
“It feels like a great place for a criminal to hide out – it’s kind of like a modern day version of Dead Wood. There’s fast money, with all the mining in the area, and where there’s gold there’s greed,” explains Avery, who based the relationship between Brendon and JR on his own experiences growing up in the area.
“I grew up with the wrong crowd,” he says, “this Machiavellian character came into my life and he took me under his wing. We had a father/son kind of relationship. I was looking for father figures after losing my dad early on, and he was on one hand very paternal and on the other hand he sent me out on missions of destruction.” Drawing from his own experience, Avery wrote the about the complex relationship between Thwaites and McGregor’s characters. “It was loosely based on a relationship I had when I was growing up,” he says, “Of course I wasn’t hanging out of helicopters and robbing gold mines but there was a pro-dependency thing.”
Now Avery experiences Western Australia a lot differently, “it is a melting pot of different cultures,” he says. “The backdrops are so unique and epic, especially in the mining sector, it feels like the land of giants, like everything has this huge, massive scale to it. You have to go there to really understand it and how big it is.” He reveals three places people should see from the movie:
It’s an absolute must visit. You’ve got a mixture of desert and really harsh yet stark beautiful landscapes, but you’ve also got the mining and that town has been there for a couple of centuries now. All the pubs and buildings are really old and still have lots of character. And the streets are really wide; it’s got that frontier look. They’ve cleaned up other towns in Australia, but they’ve still got Skippy [kangaroos] there and it’s got a rowdy, wild feel to it. That’s its charm; I hope it never loses it.
We shot a lot around here, where there’s a real history. It’s a real convict town. There are still abstractions of that. We used the Freemantle jail for one of the end scenes of the movie, and the actual cell that Ewan is in was the cell of a famous serial killer called David Burnie, who killed a bunch of girls with his wife. One of the things I really loved about this film was shooting on location; the prison gave us a real authentic setting. It made the characters. There’s a certain darkness and energy you can’t recreate when you build a set.
One of Perth’s best attributes is the beach; it’s beautiful, white, sandy, and has crystal clear water. Rottness is somewhere you have to visit on a trip to Perth, and is where we filmed the boat scene. It’s really beautiful and you would have to travel quite far up north to get that feeling, it’s got beautiful barrier reefs and is one of the best swimming areas in the world. It’s really family oriented, there’s these rent-controlled chalets where people have to go into a ballot every year to get one. It’s for everyone. The book Light Between Oceans was set here, the story of Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander’s new movie. It’s got a real amazing history to it.
Watch Son of a Gun in UK cinema’s from January 30.