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1% review: More mongrel needed as biker drama too nice for its own good

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This Western Australian biker movie falls short of its ambitions, but at least it has some. It’s supposed to be really nasty, with full-tilt violence and throbbing motorbikes, but also serious in its examination of character and motive, with a touch of the Scottish play. The two don’t always co-operate; it may be a little too nice for its own good.

The writer and co-star is the former rugby league player turned actor Matt Nable, who has more than a little screen presence. In some roles he’s like Charles Bronson, a tough guy with a heart of gold, but I’m not sure he’s cut out to play a psycho-bastard with a Mohawk and a taste for sodomy.

Here he has to do that as Knuck, the president of the Copperheads motorcycle club. They are a bunch of one-percenters, which is to say, the one per cent left over when people say that 99 per cent of all motorcyclists are law-abiding citizens. The Copperheads are as rough a collection of heads as we’ve seen on an Australian screen for a while – more tatts than Johnny Depp and nowhere near as pretty.

Calling it 1% gives it an insider feel, meant to attract the audience that likes action, violence and bikes, although I don’t know how many outlaw motorcyclists will go see it. They’re probably sick of movies and TV shows that purport to know what they do and who they are.

On top of the bad boy romanticism, Nable and director Stephen McCallum, on debut, try to ennoble the drama with a story that’s grander than its setting. There’s no reason that can’t work if you establish a sense that a motorcycle gang is a family, with all the tensions and rivalries of any family that lives off the proceeds of crime.

There’s certainly a strong sense of brotherhood, centred on the industrial shed they use as a clubhouse – complete with a pole for exotic dancers, bar and “private” areas for members who want to get it on with an endless supply of sexually available biker chicks.

Ryan Corr is Paddo, who has looked after the club for three years while Knuck has been inside. Knuck’s partner Hayley (Simone Kessell) urges Knuck to crush his deputy, as a show of force. Paddo is expecting recognition for his loyalty. He suggests they join forces with Sugar (Aaron Pedersen), a smart and very dangerous blackfella who runs a rival gang.

Paddo’s girlfriend Katrina (Abbey Lee) pushes him to strike: Knuck is finished. So now we have two versions of Lady Macbeth, urging each man into war. There’s also a third story element to do with Paddo’s slow-witted brother Skink who can’t stay out of trouble. Josh McConville gives this role some real depth.

Nable’s original script was set in the 1970s and revolved around a war between rival clubs. When McCallum joined the project, they reworked the story to concentrate on one club. I suspect McCallum might be behind the attempt to make this more than a good genre movie. And to some extent he succeeds.

McCallum has brought together a strong cast and a sturdy script, in terms of structure. What he hasn’t done is prune the dialogue to its absolute minimum. Thus the movie feels talky, a little over-written. That’s partly inexperience: not being sure of what you can do without.

The bigger problem is that none of this achieves the sense of spontaneity necessary to make it gripping. Knuck and his band of brothers often feel like they are acting the parts of tough guys – which in Knuck’s case is fine because that is part of his character, jail having made him weak.

It comes down to a vision of evil: if we don’t feel that we are in the presence of really bad dudes, stone-cold killers, the drama loses its sting. That is what distinguishes this from the top rank in this division. Animal Kingdom, from 2010, established a benchmark for an Australian film about a crime family: not for a moment was there any doubt that those people were the devil’s spawn. 1% needed more mongrel to become fully successful and that’s nothing to do with the size of someone’s gun or the sound of their motorcycle.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald

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