In the course of a day, detective Malcolm Toohey goes from participating in a major sting operation that gets him shot to celebrating and singing Bon Jovi with his officers in the cop bar, to hitting a child with his vehicle while driving under the influence.
A good man at heart, he suffers from extremely poor judgement in that moment of trial and chooses to hide behind his badge. Whether it is fear of losing his professional shine, or simply the shame of his folly, he tells a big lie that will ripple through his family life, professional life, and the lives of the boy's family. It will also have the audience consider some tricky moral and ethical situations over the course of about three days of Toohey's guilt compressed into 100 minutes of solid drama, along the similar lines of Mystic River or Cop Land.
Felony was written by and stars Joel Edgerton, and it was made in the genre hotbed of Australia that produced other sticky crime dramas The Square and Animal Kingdom. There is particularly powerful performance from consummate professional Tom Wilkinson playing seasoned detective Carl Summer, who delivers the big 'circle the wagons' movie-speech at the heart of the films headspace: Why should cops or 'good' people need the courts or prisons, because their own guilt is punishment enough for their 'accidental' crimes
After Detective Summer helps cover for Toohey's misdeeds, he does not take kindly to Toohey's conscience flaring up, as the little boy's head wound gets worse. Aggressively pushing the 'don't hurt the police' brand, Summer has also to deal with his Ed Exely type new partner Jai "Son of Die Hard" Courtney, who plays the crisp, by the book detective Jim Melic. The young and idealized Melic becomes suspicious of the whole situation immediately based on observations Toohey's response in the 911 call he placed, and the jittery body language when he talks with Summer. It doesn't help things that Melic has taken a bit of a fancy to the boy's young mother.
The dance between these three officers is clearly the focus, but lest the film simply become another potboiling law enforcement politics and procedure thriller, director Matthew Seville focuses on a drama of verisimilitude over the usual blue-and-white cliches. This makes Felony ten times the film of Guillaume Canet's substanceless cops-n-family bore Blood Ties. Toohey's wife (Melissa George) and sons come into the picture, as well as the mother (Sarah Roberts) of the injured boy in parts that are small on screen time, but massive in significance. How the women each choose to react to the situation, radically different perspectives and emotion, but subtle similarities in dealing with information, is significant. Toohey's wife is a nurse in the hospital where the boy is being treated in a comatose state. She steps outside of her own professional boundaries to share information with her husband. So really, the film is more concerned with ethics and professional bend the rules 'perquisites' more than morality. Most good folks implicitly know that hiding a mistake the magnitude of Detective Toohey's and his failure to fess up is dead wrong, but Edgerton's humanity and pain in dealing with his bad choices makes for compelling enough middlebrow moviegoing. Looking with how 'people problems' are dealt with 'officially' vs. the massaging behinds the scenes by people with some professional authority is something altogether different.
All the interconnectedness might flirt with the dramatic overkill of Paul Haggis' egregious Crash. Albeit, there is zero racism and Sydney is not used to probing big city indifference or anything of that ilk. But the film does indeed stumble with an ending that edifies the audience (or rather assuages) and ties a far too neat little bow on the whole affair, which feels like false comfort; especially since the film has good writing up to that point, to have all the officers busy enough working several other cases to mitigate any hermetically sealed or everything-is-connected aspects for which these types of films usually fall. For placing such a complicated tangle of 'stuff' into a neat, crowd-pleasing box, to these eyes, is the real crime of Felony that I am not ready to forgive.
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