Cast: Jai Courtney, Melissa George, Joel Edgerton
Director: Matthew Saville
Synopsis: Three detectives become embroiled in a tense struggle after a tragic accident that leaves a child in critical condition. One is guilty of a crime, one will try to cover it up, and the other attempts to expose it. How far will these men go to disguise and unravel the truth?
Release Date: August 28th, 2014
Filmed on location in Sydney, Australia, over eight weeks of the southern hemisphere spring, Felony brings together one of the finest international casts and creative teams ever assembled in Australia including actors Joel Edgerton, Tom Wilkinson, Jai Courtney and Melissa George.
When asked what it was that attracted them to Felony, each of the film's stellar cast members and its A-list key creatives cite the quality of the script for Felony.
Written by and starring Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby, Animal Kingdom, Zero Dark Thirty), this stylish psychological thriller brings together three leading men at the top of their game - Edgerton, two-time Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson (The Exotic Marigold Hotel, Michael Clayton) and new action hero Jai Courtney (A Good Day to Die Hard, Jack Reacher). Also appearing is internationally-acclaimed Australian actress Melissa George, lauded for her recent work on the UK series Hunted, the US series In Treatment and The Good Wife and the Australian hit drama The Slap.
Behind the cameras are multi-award winning Australian director Matthew Saville (Cloudstreet, Noise) with producers Rosemary Blight of Goalpost Pictures, producer of the highest grossing Australian film of 2012 The Sapphires, Michael Benaroya of Benaroya Pictures and Joel Edgerton of Blue-Tongue Films.
Rosemary Blight was introduced to the script by the Managing Director of Roadshow Films, who is distributing the film in Australia and New Zealand.
'I was in a meeting with Joel Pearlman and he gave me the script to read. He was very impressed with Joel Edgerton's writing. I had so much on at the time and wasn't looking for new material but felt compelled to read it because it had been written by Joel Edgerton and because of Joel Pearlman's enthusiasm. So I read it and I fell in love. The script is so intelligent, so emotional and so real," Rosemary Blight says.
'The film is essentially about a moral dilemma and Joel Edgerton had written it with such clarity, wisdom and heart that I had to take it on."
Rosemary Blight and Joel Edgerton decided to produce the film together and the film's International sales agent The Solution Group introduced Rosemary to US producer Michael Benaroya of Benaroya Pictures, a company with a developing reputation for finely crafted independent features.
Says Michael Benaroya, "Felony is one of those films, for me, that really epitomizes what independent films are all about. It's honest, gritty, unexpected and it tackles an important subject matter. The greatest part about being an independent financier is helping to ensure that this kind of worthwhile and deserving film gets made."
Rosemary Blight had known Joel (Edgerton) for several years but they had never worked together. It's an experience she values highly.
'Joel Edgerton is a real listener. He is very, very articulate and really interested in collaboration. He did a lot of the work on the script while shooting Zero Dark Thirty. There he was shooting nights on this important US film and then, during the day, he'd continue working on the script of Felony. He's incredible, an incredible writer."
For Joel Edgerton, the original idea for the film was about the exploration of ethics and empathy:
'My belief is that while we like to believe that we'd make glossily good decisions, we'll never know until we're put in a situation like that faced by Malcolm."
'I wanted to understand what punishment, guilt and forgiveness were and where those things come from. Where does forgiveness come from? Do I have to forgive myself in order to get back to life? A clean conscience means to me that a person is leading a life like an unbroken chain, ambling along with this feeling of good conscience, but if you do something terrible, maybe the chain gets broken, so how do you get it back?" he says.
'There's no protagonist in this film, or antagonist. Tom Wilkinson's character, my character, Jai Courtney's character, we're antagonists and protagonists. The reason for that is this question of empathy, how can I judge your actions? And who are we to judge the actions of others?"
Rosemary Blight adds: 'The film is really about an ordinary man who does something very wrong. He tells a lie and then we witness the implications of that lie. I think we all lie, it's just how far we allow the lie to go. What I'm hoping is that audiences will question themselves. That this film will challenge their ideas of what is right and what is wrong. It's a very emotional, a very intelligent film about a really fundamental thing that everyone has experienced. Have you ever lied?"
When brainstorming about directors, both Joel Edgerton and Rosemary Blight came to the same conclusion – that the perfect director for Felony would be Matthew Saville, whose debut feature Noise is considered one of the most stylish and accomplished Australian films of recent years. Matthew Saville had also just completed two standout Australian television dramas, the sprawling Cloudstreet and the highly original series The Slap.
Matthew Saville was looking to return to film and, having been asked to read the script for Felony by Rosemary Blight and Joel Edgerton, he couldn't put it out of his mind.
'You read a lot of scripts and most of them you forget the title by 3pm in the afternoon, but this one was just sticking in my head. I found myself thinking about how I'd approach this scene or that scene."
It was the moral dilemmas at the heart of the film - the script's exploration of the notions of justice, guilt and innocence that so appealed to Matthew Saville.
'I couldn't dismiss Malcolm's actions as simply being -wrong' because I understood he was trying to protect his own family. In this film, nobody wears a white hat or a black hat and if they're wearing a halo, it's a crooked halo – and I just think that's a closer reflection of life. It's very honest," he says.
'Also, because the script was written by an actor, he has a natural ear for dialogue, which the others actors just ate up."
When it came to casting, it was clear that Joel Edgerton would play Malcolm. At the top of the wish list actors to play the older detective, Carl Summer, was Tom Wilkinson.
'I love saying to a director -who is your dream cast'. The power of a great script and a great director, and Matthew Saville is a really great director, delivered us Tom Wilkinson." Rosemary Blight says.
'Carl is a character who has lived a life, he understands the complexities of life, and he understands that there can be a great deal in the grey area between what is truth and what is not. He understands that just because a person lies, doesn't mean they're now a bad person. Tom Wilkinson just says all of that on his face...and in the way that he delivers the words. I hope when people see the movie they are as amazed as I am by his performance."
Rosemary Blight recalls receiving a text message from Joel Edgerton in the middle of the night during a week of grueling night shoots.
'Joel Edgerton and Tom Wilkinson were shooting a scene in which the characters argue about whether the truth should be revealed. Joel Edgerton's text said -Tom Wilkinson has just taken this through the roof' and what I could feel in this text from Joel - who is one of our greatest actors I believe – that it was a real honour being in the presence of Tom Wilkinson and his respect for Tom Wilkinson's work. So, even though it was the middle of the night, I went down and watched. It was one of those nights where we were behind schedule and the crew was tired and hungry but at the end of the scene our amazing first assistant director Chris Webb said -I'm sorry everyone for keeping you waiting, but I'm sure it was worthwhile to watch these two men' and the crew just burst into applause. It was extraordinary. The spirit of what happened that night is on the screen. It really shows what two great actors can do when they just push one another, and it's a great credit to Matthew Saville for creating an environment where that could happen."
Matthew Saville recalls one of his favourite scenes from the film, this time with Tom Wilkinson and Jai Courtney: 'We were shooting another night scene on top of a carpark roof and Tom Wilkinson's character was meant to be drunk. I was sitting at the video split and it wasn't printing to me that he was drunk. And I thought, what do you do here? Do you go up to Tom Wilkinson and say that you're not buying his drunk accent? So I just left it. But once I saw it on the big screen, it's there. If he had done it any more, it would have been cartoon drunk. We all know that when we are actually drunk we do everything in our power to appear sober. Tom Wilkinson's astounding. He pitched it perfectly, because it's a drunk guy holding it together. That's what a great big screen actor brings."
Cast in the third leading role, that of the young and idealistic detective Jim, is rising Australian star Jai Courtney, recently seen in Jack Reacher and A Good Day to Die Hard.
'While we were casting for the role of Jim, in America there were jungle drums beating about this emerging new talent Jai Courtney even though his other big films hadn't been finished. He was still filming a -little' Bruce Willis film in Budapest so he put down an audition tape and sent it to us. It's a great example of not having to be in the room with someone, this tape arrived and it was all there. He has such a physical presence, but he also has a great camera sense," Matthew Saville says.
Rosemary Blight describes the characters of Malcolm, Carl and Jai – and in the fine portrayals by Joel Edgerton, Tom Wilkinson and Jai Courtney - as representing the three stages of man.
'Jai Courtney delivers a strong youthful arrogance that says -I know what's right and I know what's wrong, and I'm going to pursue that'. Then you have the man in his mid-thirties, who has come to realise that not all your dreams will come true the way you'd thought they would. And then there's Carl, where it's very clearly about experience and knowledge. He knows what life can deliver in all its glory and sadness."
Melissa George brings her considerable acting chops to the role of Malcolm's wife Julie. Melissa George more than holds her own against the weighty cast of three leading men, bringing both fragility and a fierce strength to the role of a woman determined to hold her family together. Melissa George had worked with Matthew on The Slap so he had no doubt that she would make a powerful impression on audiences.
Rosemary Blight says: 'Without a doubt Melissa George's the most beautiful looking woman, she's just divine, but the emotion that she can get out from her stillness and how truthful and bare she's willing to be in her work is astonishing. She plays the wife of a man who did something terrible, something very, very wrong. What would you do as the woman of a man who does something like that, when you know the danger is that you'll lose your family, your house... all your dreams will go. Her performance is stunningly beautiful."
Felony also introduces Sarah Roberts an Ankhila, the young mother of the boy knocked from his bike by Malcolm.
'This is Sarah Robert's first film and she has done an extraordinary job, the same as Melissa George, at creating a holistic character out of these snatches of scenes which are like lightning bolts. There's one scene where she meets Malcolm in the hospital and her whole backstory and all her beliefs are all there in a look. And it's all done non-verbally. I'm always in awe of actors when they manage to do this," Matthew Saville says.
The Look Of The Film
Matthew Saville renewed his creative partnership with DOP Mark Wareham with whom he worked on the major Showtime drama series Cloudstreet. While inspired by the look of classic thrillers, their aim was to create a tonality and look that complemented the intense dialogue scenes and performances.
Felony was shot at multiple locations across Sydney, many never before seen on film. Both Matthew Saville and Matt live in other cities and so production designer and Sydney-sider, Karen Murphy, who'd recently completed work on Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby helped guide them around her city.
'Ultimately it became less about the actual place and more about the palette of the location. The film is quite claustrophobic in that it takes place over three days and there's lots of intensity in dialogue and relationships – so we just didn't want bright, saturated colours to come in and break us out of that story," Karen Murphy says.
'As a designer you need to deeply understand the world a character is living in so that you can make choices for them. There's nothing more jarring than a piece of clothing or a set dressing that doesn't look quite right. I spent a lot of time in hospitals and police stations preparing for this film! And also in the design of the homes the characters inhabit as houses say so much about a character."
Says Matthew Saville, 'The 'look" and 'feel" of the film evolved, not only in pre-production, and during principle photography, but also during the picture edit and, later, as we applied music and sound design to the film. That said, there were principles that we held from the very moment we started working on the film. To begin with, I was very keen to photograph the film on celluloid, rather than on a digital capture medium, and in the widescreen 2:40 aspect ratio. This immediately suggested we take a more 'formalist" or 'classical" photographic approach, which then lent itself to a more deliberate and understated cutting style. And that, in turn, gave enough breathing space to develop an atmospheric soundscape."
Matthew Saville continues: 'Director of Photography, Mark Wareham, and I share a similar taste in films. We particularly admire the work of the American iconoclasts of the -70's – Arthur Penn, Francis Ford Coppola, John Schlesinger, Alan J. Pakula, Hal Ashby, and Robert Altman – particularly their paranoid thrillers. Pakula's Klute and Coppola's The Conversation were films we talked about often. These weren't 'thrillers" in the sense that they were driven by action, or because their characters were motivated by external forces. Instead, they are haunted by internal conflicts.
'Herein lay the problem, how to evoke these complex emotions, so elegantly submerged in Joel Edgerton's script, and so deftly disguised by his characters, on screen? Music and sound design go a long way in achieving this, but I was also determined to have those elements expressed photographically. A conclusion that we finally arrived at was that this was a film about watching, and the unease of the sense of being watched. Happily, this notion of -observation', and -being observed' rhymed with the -objective', -formalist' approach we had already adopted."
Release Date: August 28th, 2014