While Joel Edgerton has no shortage of friends and collaborators he could have chosen to direct his script for the crime drama “Felony,” he landed on Matthew Saville, a TV veteran with a couple of feature films under his belt as well. Edgerton had been impressed with the filmmaker’s 2007 Aussie TV movie “The King: The Story of Graham Kennedy” and thus begun the journey to bring the actor’s movie to the big screen. “The whole thing started with Joel. He wrote it and approached me about four years ago,” Saville explained when we caught up with him over the phone. He was enthusiastic about the experience of working with Edgerton and the result of their teamwork will be seen next week at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Co-starring Tom Wilkinson, Jai Courtney and Melissa George, “Felony” centers on Malcolm Toohey (Edgerton), an outstanding cop and beloved family man. But one mistake made during an arrest, followed by an attempt to cover it up, sets his world spiralling as he tries to keep ahead of a situation that threatens to expose him. Wilkinson plays a man caught up in Malcom’s transgression, with Courtney as the cop’s hotheaded young partner. While on the surface this might sound like a handful of other similarly themed pictures about cops and compromised morals, Saville asserts that this has much more to it. “The first thing I was really taken by was the honesty of it. It didn’t feel like a contrived narrative, it felt frighteningly plausible,” he shared. “And Joel being an actor, writes from that perspective. So the dialogue is spot on — he’s got a poet’s ear for dialogue. More than any other script I read, it was very clear about where all the characters were emotionally.”
And it’s that focus on characters versus the mechanics of the plot that Saville embraced, allowing him to riff on the kinds of movies he’s come to treasure. “Basically my favourite period in cinema history is ’70s American iconoclasts — Coppola and Scorsese and all those guys. I was often thinking about an Alan J. Pakula film called ‘Klute‘ when we were making this,” the director shared, noting that the movie isn’t so much about being cop as it is about the people who are behind the badge.
As always, it’s one thing to have a script and quite another to bring it to life, but Saville suggests that in filming the movie, the material actually became richer. “The surprise for me was how philosophical the film became, how emotional it became,” adding that it really transformed once the cameras were rolling; “You can read it off the page, but once a talented actor brings voice and life and breath to the all these different intricacies that can’t be described in script form…”.
“Felony” continued to unpack different layers as it went into the editing process. “Something that Rose[mary Blight], the producer, said toward the end of the edit that hit me as a revelation was that, there was a sense in this triangle of characters — Tom’s character and Joel’s and Jai’s — was that they’re actually playing the same person in three different stages of their lives.” It’s an intriguing analysis of a film that promises to be a rather penetrating look at duty to one’s job and colleagues.
“Felony” arrives at TIFF soon, but until then, check out a clip and photos from the movie below.