Wednesday 13 February 2019

Outlaws (Australia 2017: Dir Stephen McCallum)

Despite the rather unpleasant characters and violent setups in Stephen McCallum's debut feature film, Outlaws (original title One Per Cent) is a surprisingly conservative gang movie about loyalty and rivalry (what else?) in the wild lands of Australia.

Mark aka Paddo (Ryan Corr) is 'Vice President' of a motorcycle gang called Copperheads (all the members have their name and job title on their jackets, which probably comes in handy at staff conferences) who, when we first meet him, is trying to save the skin of his mentally incapacitated brother, Adam aka Skink (Josh McConville). Skink has been set up to diddle a rival gang out of a stash of heroin, and they are justifiably annoyed. But Mark thinks he can save the day - and his brother - and maybe rise in the ranks a little, by negotiating a deal with them. The only problem is that Copperheads' president Knuck (Matt Nable) is just about to get out of a three year prison term, probably won't agree to any deal he hasn't brokered, doesn't do deals with anyone anyway, and is still very much in charge.

Knuck's girlfriend Hayley (Simone Kessell) just wants him to get home and settle back into being boss again, but Mark's girlfriend Katrina (Abbey Lee), has other ideas, willing her boyfriend to take over the operation by stealth or murder, whichever's quicker. It's a tense situation all right, as the gang begin to turn on themselves, and everyone is asked to pick a side.

Sons of Anarchy meets Macbeth, claims the movie's admats, but Outlaws doesn't really offer anything new or indeed as satisfying, with its bickering gang members, gritty locations and generally pallid sense of lawlessness. Ryan Corr looks a little too squeaky clean to be a gang member, as does his scheming partner, Abbey Lee. Matt Nable and Simone Kessell look more the part, Nable in particular a snarling bundle of anger that seems hell bent on starting one fight after another. Knuck is all about power - an interesting if exploitative character angle has him sodomising his opponents to assert his absolute authority (including his accountant - giving a whole new meaning to the phrase double entry book-keeping), never being at home to the fact that he might be gay. As Skink Josh McConville only seems to exist to do stupid things which give the plot the chance to advance, making it difficult to sympathise with this rather pathetic individual.

As an example of Ozploitation, Outlaws, while never less than watchable, is incredibly tame against the likes of say, Snowtown (2011) or Killing Ground (2016). The camera often looks away from the violence, which would make sense if the director wanted to focus more on the drama. But the drama here is constructed around characters that are both thinly drawn and profoundly unsympathetic. It scores points for a great and very tough soundtrack which sadly only reminds the audience that what they're watching, while not exactly pleasant, is no way near as gruelling as possibly Stephen Mccallum wanted it to be.

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