Margaret Pomeranz thoroughly enjoyed Son of a Gun while David Stratton reckoned it was competent and mostly well shot but highly improbable, peopled with uniformly unlikable characters.
To the extent that At the Movies influences moviegoing, it seems viewers took far more notice of Stratton’s 2½ stars than Pomeranz’s 3½ stars judging by the opening weekend results.
The debut film from writer-director Julius Avery fetched nearly $65,000 on 53 screens and $69,000 with previews. That suggests there wasn’t a lot of awareness for the crime thriller starring Ewan McGregor, Brenton Thwaites (rightly hailed by Pomeranz as a “great talent”) and Alicia Vikander.
Either that or audiences are not interested in dark, depressing stories with no-good or shady characters after four or five Oz films in that vein underperformed at Australian cinemas this year.
Another possible factor, as IF’s commentators have canvassed, is the Australian cinema brand has been tarnished to the point where the home-grown label is a turn-off.
Others dispute that notion and argue audiences will turn up if and when they are confident they’ll be entertained.
Producer Timothy White told IF, "The Australian result is devastating, further igniting the debate about the performance of Australian films at the local box office at a time when they are selling strongly into foreign markets."
White is in Galway, Ireland, working on Jim Loach's South Australian-shot film after attending Son of a Gun's premiere last Friday at the London Film Festival. "It was a cracking response from an audience primed for a roller coaster ride of a film," he said.
"Julius is an extremely talented filmmaker and he created a film that is exciting and entertaining. It is not a dark and bleak tale. It is an intense and fun- filled ride with appealing characters.
"We set out to attract a broad, mainstream audience, skewed to young males. Unfortunately we did not have an advertising spend that allowed the film to connect with that audience. I believe most did not even know it was playing.
"I do not believe the mixed response from local critics was the reason for the very disappointing response." As for the perception of the Australian film brand, White said, "There is a strong level of hesitation to spend good money on a product that Australians have come to not trust will be entertaining."
To be fair, as IF has pointed out consistently, local B.O. results are merely one indicator of the state of the film industry, not the sole definitive judgment.
International sales this year have been strong for a raft of films including Son of a Gun, The Little Death, Felony, The Water Diviner, The Rover, Kill Me Three Times, The Dressmaker, The Babadook, The Reckoning, Charlie's Country and 52 Tuesdays.
Altitude Film Sales clinched deals for Son of a Gun in Europe, Asia and Latin America while UTA Independent Film Group sold US rights to A24 and Canadian rights to Mongrel Media.
So when foreign sales and local home entertainment revenues are factored in, the financial picture may not be so depressing.