They have improved dramatically over the past decade or so, but there was a time when cop shows on TV just needed to have police officers and bad guys. Character development, be damned: People just wanted to watch crimes solved in an hour.
You get the distinct impression that the makers of "Son of a Gun" felt very much the same way about a prison break/gold heist movie. If it just has those two elements, their film implies, then it will be a guaranteed success. So here we, in Australia, watching a meandering crime picture unfold in beautiful, fashionable high contrast cinematography. But it's very hard to get worked up about any of the rest of it.
Behind bars, fresh-faced inmate JR (Brenton Thwaites) is immediately drawn to Brendan Lynch (Ewan McGregor), whose exploits the much younger JR has read about. Lynch is a Dillenger-esque folk hero for criminals, put away for some highly publicized bank robberies. Lynch has acquired quite a bit of stroke in prison and he uses it to keep his young acolyte safe from various cell block thugs. In return, JR has to help Lynch escape from prison (with a helicopter, natch), hide out, and pull off a multi-million dollar gold theft.
Lynch, as it turns out, is part of a larger crime syndicate, needlessly complicating the story but keeping Ewan McGregor in your sympathies. His associate has the big palace and entourage you'd expect a crime lord to have, and that includes the requisite pretty young girl. Her name is Tasha (Alicia Vikander), just a kid who got mixed up in the wrong world and now she can't get out. The Swedish Vikander is undeniably a beauty, and you might mistake her for mere eye candy if not for her excellent performances in "A Royal Affair" and "Anna Karenina" a couple years ago. She'll feature prominently in Guy Ritchie's reboot of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," this year, as well as the British sci-fi flick, "Ex Machina." But in "Son of a Gun," she's just a damsel like so many others in movies like these—in distress, in love, in short skirts.
Thwaites is equally attractive, so you get the distinct sense no real harm will come to JR. He also has a cat-like habit of winding up on his feet, no matter the obstacles or his own poor decisions. Among those bad choices is never redirecting his personal compass from pointing toward Tasha, though she's someone else's property by the rules of this game, and clearly off-limits. Although it's not saying much, the best scenes in "Son of a Gun" are the breathless make-out sessions between the young stars, because sometimes it's just nice to have young and beautiful in your movie.
Otherwise, this feels a bit like a slot machine. You keep waiting for better fortunes, but the more you invest, the more it's going to take just to break even. This is the first feature film for Aussie filmmaker Julius Avery and there's certainly some promise in his direction; visually, he doesn't need any help at all. But the movies need to be better with the sound on than off, and unfortunately, the dialogue is nondescript, the characters are empty and the plot is kind of a goulash of pieces from better movies within the same genre.