A little known fact about Australian actor Joel Edgerton is that he’s actually quite the accomplished screenwriter back home. His latest effort as a scribe (and leading man) following several shorts and the sadly under-seen in North America neo-noir The Square is Felony, an admirably even keeled cop drama focusing on a trio of detectives with dodgy allegiances to one another.
Edgerton stars as Malcolm, a highly decorated officer working on a high profile drug case, who in a moment of drunken indiscretion drives home and side swipes a kid on an early morning paper route, leaving the kid in a coma. The officers who take the case are a close acquaintance of a suspect veteran cop (Tom Wilkinson) and a young idealist (Jai Courtney) who wants to probe deeper into the situation than his superior will allow.
Each character in Edgerton’s script has a clear and thoughtful arc, and with director Matthew Saville’s help they create numerous memorable scenes. All three leads are at the top of their game. Edgerton has to balance being a well meaning cop stricken with guilt over his transgressions, but also someone not above corruption to cover up his crime. Courtney gets stronger material than he’s been getting lately as the requisite rookie willing to make a name for himself at any cost. The always exceptional Wilkinson steals the show, of course, as the damaged superior officer perpetuating the code of silence among cops who have done wrong. He’s able to turn the film’s main villain into something that’s almost sympathetic because he’s the man that either of the other main characters could easily end up becoming.
Edgerton and Saville wisely place the focus here on character development rather than plot, but to compensate for the film’s simple story the filmmakers include plenty of memorable individual sequences. An opening police raid where things go terribly wrong for Malcolm and his team is dazzling, but not showy, and the film’s real climax comes with a nicely stage bit where all three leads are forced into a sit down where none of them grants anyone else any slack.
It’s a minor shame that the film somehow decides to race to a less than thoughtful and somewhat convenient conclusion, but it doesn’t mar anything that came before it, either.