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David Dare Parker/A24

Son of a Gun (2015)

This Australian crime caper doesn’t quite know what to do with itself. It has Ewan McGregor, perfectly cast as a man who remains a fundamentally decent human being even while murdering villains left and right. It has Alicia Vikander — about five minutes before she becomes a global superstar — as an appealingly vulnerable combination of curdling sexuality and stifled intelligence. It has one of the most inventive settings for a robbery in cinema history. And somehow — somehow — the movie blows it.

Part of the problem is that easily half of the movie runs like a montage of other, better ones. The opening sequence of J. R. (Brenton Thwaites) walking alone and unprotected into prison is a dead ringer for the opening of “A Prophet,” to the point of Mr. Thwaites’s physical resemblance to Tahar Rahim. Inside, he meets Lynch (Mr. McGregor) due to their mutual skill at chess and concern for J. R.’s cellmate, who is being viciously raped on a daily basis — a truly modern meet cute. In the fullness of time — and without spoilers — J. R. and Lynch partner up outside of prison to do one really big job.

That job is a heist inside a gold mine in the Australian outback. And director Julius Avery and cinematographer Nigel Bluck film it like it’s the bank robbery in Michael Mann’s “Heat” — as if the inside of a smelting plant is an everyday place we are all bored rigid with. The sequence is tense; the pacing is good; and the camerawork does a fine job of not letting the tension be spoiled by the overbearing music, but Mr. Avery takes everything special about these people and this place and rejects it for the mundane.

The trouble is that Mr. Avery doesn’t have an original thought in his pretty little head. J. R. reacts to Tasha (Ms. Vikander), a trafficked sex worker under the control of Lynch’s boss, Sam (Jacek Koman), as if she is the only woman he has ever met. Lynch gives J. R. a lecture about the difference between chimps and bonobos in a squalid bedsit conveniently decorated with pictures of monkeys. J. R.’s personality shifts with the needs of the plot, and his appeal to Lynch and Tasha remains strictly dictated by Mr. Avery and John Collee’s screenplay.

One reason to watch “Son of a Gun” is to see Mr. McGregor and Ms. Vikander rise above mediocre parts. And to see Mr. McGregor having a lot of fun being bad, sitting out car windows machine-gunning a convoy of storm troopers — I mean, Australian policemen. But the best way to see this movie is as a modern-day remake of “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.” Try it — don’t think it doesn’t work.


Opens on Jan. 23 in United States and on Jan. 30 in Britain

Written and directed by Julius Avery; director of photography, Nigel Bluck; edited by Jack Hutchings; music by Jed Kurtzel; production design by Fiona Crombie; costumes by Terri Lamera; produced by Timothy White; released by A24 (United States) and Koch Media Entertainment (Bitain). Running time: 1 hour 48 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Ewan McGregor (Brendan Lynch), Brenton Thwaites (J. R.), Alicia Vikander (Tasha), Jacek Koman (Sam Lennox), Matt Nable (Sterlo), Tom Budge (Josh), Eddie Baroo (Merv), Nash Edgerton (Chris) and Damon Herriman (Private Wilson).


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