British actor Tom Wilkinson makes you want to root for the bad guy in Felony, a lifeless Australian morality play about three corrupt police officers who cover up a hit-and-run. That’s a problem, since star/screenwriter Joel Edgerton and director Matthew Saville want you to feel conflicted in your loyalties — and to be moved to feel for all the cops: Malcolm (Edgerton), a family man who hits a little girl with his car, sending her into a coma; Jim (Jai Courtney), a short-tempered whistle-blower; and Carl (Wilkinson), a burnout who helps Malcolm conceal his crime.
The three lead actors are limited by their characters’ kiddy-pool-shallow behavior: Jim hounds Malcolm because he suspects Carl, a bullying boozehound, is up to even more no good, while Malcolm has glassy-eyed pangs of remorse whenever he thinks of his victim’s mother, Ankhila (Sarah Roberts), and his own two children.
Carl isn’t much more nuanced, throwing tantrums when Malcolm and Jim question his cops-über-alles tribalism. But Carl stands out thanks to Wilkinson’s flamboyant, Charles Laughton–worthy performance. He’s so good at playing the devil on Malcolm’s shoulder that he even sounds smooth while raving, “Prison is for pricks who don’t have their punishment [in their heads].”
He also sighs wearily with such panache that he nails abysmal sub-Mametian dialogue like “The world is gonna swallow us up, and who knows in the end if we leave a mark.” Carl’s not much of a role, but Wilkinson makes him Felony‘s only flesh-and-blood character.