There is a moment in the Australian film “Felony” when the main character, Malcolm, has to make a split-second decision whether to do the right thing. Played by Joel Edgerton (who also wrote the screenplay), the police officer sits in his stopped car, looking in the rearview mirror at a kid lying in the road. Edgerton manages to convey so much panic without making a sound as he ponders his situation: It’s late, he’s drunk and he’s just hit the kid, who was delivering newspapers on a bike.
It’s this kind of quiet, charged moment that makes “Felony” not just a straightforward suspense film, but also a thought-provoking drama about how our moral failings can affect the people around us.
The movie starts with a surge as Malcolm runs through a warehouse on a drug raid; he ends up chasing a man while a shaky handheld camera captures the pursuit. When Malcolm jumps from a high ledge onto a pile of boxes, he inelegantly topples to the ground — Jason Bourne he is not.
Malcolm gets shot during the chase, but he’s saved by his bulletproof vest and is immediately hailed as a hero. Of course, drinks at a bar follow, and it’s after this celebration that Malcolm ends up in his moral quandary. He decides to call in the accident, but claims he had nothing to do with it; he just found the kid in the road. Meanwhile, two detectives stumble upon the scene. One — an old-school type named Carl (Tom Wilkinson) who knows Malcolm — figures out what really happened and helps Malcolm lie. But Carl doesn’t clue in his new partner, Jim (Jai Courtney), which is just as well since Jim is a stickler for the rules.
The child ends up in a coma, and guilt begins to eat away at Malcolm. Meanwhile, Jim begins to piece together the true story, and Carl worries that Malcolm will come clean, jeopardizing the older detective’s career.
The three actors excel in their roles, and director Matthew Saville gives additional insight into the men through small yet informative details. Yes, Jim might be annoyingly by-the-book, but he’s morally in the right; he also compliments his mother on her cooking and clears the table after dinner, so how bad can he be? And as Malcolm, who is the strong silent type, begins to unravel, the camera zooms in on his subtle, pained expressions showing the cracks in his tough exterior.
Edgerton is a talented leading man, but “Felony” shows what a versatile artist he can be. The movie is the first feature he has written alone. (He has co-writing credits on “The Rover” and “The Square.”) Let’s hope he keeps at it. It’s a rare treat to see a suspenseful crime drama delivered with so much nuance and restraint.
★ ★ ★
Unrated. At West End Cinema. Contains strong language and some violence. 105 minutes.