FELONY – JOEL EDGERTON & MATTHEW SAVILLE
Life can take dramatic turns very suddenly, posing moral questions to any of us, as Joel Edgerton and Matthew Saville explore in their new film, Felony, and discuss it with Andrew L. Urban on the eve of its Australian release.
In the movie, Felony, the idea of police having a (changeable) secret password to avoid getting breath tested by the RBT unit is an invention of screenwriter Joel Edgerton, but when he asked a senior detective to read the screenplay, the cop smiled and told him “I’d hate for you to take it out!” and added, “This [script] feels like it’s been written by someone who knows,” said the detective, “but there are a few things that need correcting.”
Saville was impressed – and daunted – by the amount of red tape police have to go through and the strictures of their budgets … “bit like filmmaking,” he quips.
But the point of Felony is not so much to portray police procedures but to highlight the complexity of human nature when moral choices have to be made, says Edgerton as he and director Matthew Saville face various journalists, one by one, in the obligatory media junket. This time, overlooking Circular Quay, or we would, if the room hadn’t been blacked out for the TV cameras.
Sitting opposite the two of them in a somewhat unnatural configuration, their differences are apparent: Saville is dressed in black casual gear, smaller than Edgerton, slightly hunched, speaking with his hands. Edgerton, in relaxed grey casual wear, sits upright, speaks with emphasis and passion.
"the rule book doesn’t always apply"
“When I was younger,” he says, “I very much lived by the rules …. Fidelity, the law …. There was a rule book. I saw things as right or wrong, black and white. Now that I’m 40 I’ve started to understand that the rule book doesn’t always apply. That’s my character in the movie, it’s about his evolution. Life can take dramatic turns… Then you’ve got the older, more experienced Carl who understands those grey areas…”
What Edgerton wants is for the audience “to ask themselves the question, what would I do? And think about it.”
The biggest change from the screenplay to the screen was the structure: “Matthew realised that the structure I had was not as suitable for a thriller… we needed more forward momentum and he did that.”
As for directing the veteran Tom Wilkinson who plays Carl, Saville says he didn’t really need to: “He fully understood the character.”
Producer 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’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 says.
“The film is essentially about a moral dilemma and Joel had written it with such clarity, wisdom and heart that I had to take it on.”
“Joel 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, 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.
"leading a life like an unbroken chain"
“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’s character, my character, Jai'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?”
Published August 28, 2014
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Three Sydney detectives – Jim (Jai Courtney), Mal (Joel Edgerton) and Carl (Tom Wilkinson) - become embroiled in a tense struggle after a tragic accident that leaves a child in critical condition. One is guilty of a crime, one tries to cover it up, and the third attempts to expose it.
In Australian cinemas from August 28, 2014