When beardy bad-ass prisoner Brendan (Ewan McGregor) rescues new kid on the block JR (Brenton Thwaites) from a rival gang of shower-block thugs in an Australian jail, the young man knows there’ll be a price to pay. On JR’s release, he’s given instructions on how to carry out notorious robber Brendan’s complex escape plan, knowing he’s dead meat if he doesn’t comply. JR’s uncertainty over whether he’s gaining valuable loyalty points by going along with the plan or if he will merely be dispensed with at Brendan’s convenience provides an underlying tension as first-time writer-director Julius Avery barrels his way through a series of hardware-heavy, bullet-riddled action sequences.
As JR, Thwaites flip-flops unconvincingly from vulnerable newbie to conniving shark, leaving McGregor’s gruffly imposing yet moving presence as the self-centred master-technician to shine like a beacon. He’s at the heart of a crunching and involving mid-section, after which the film surrenders to crowd-pleasing superficiality. In the process, restless moll Tasha (Alicia Vikander), keen to escape the talons of a powerful crimelord, provides an under-characterised romance angle. Still, it’s all put together with a crisp confidence that suggests its writer-director will swiftly move on to bigger things.