As a film lover, I visit the cinema more often than your average moviegoer. I see great films, atrocious films, unexpected gems that I tell everyone they have to see... and I see Australian films. Our country’s cinematic landscape is wide and varied, and while we’ve had some true classics in the past three years, there are dozens more that have fallen by the wayside. ‘1%’ is the latest Aussie film to emerge - but does it have what it takes to be the next big sleeper hit?
Paddo (Ryan Corr, ‘Mary Magdalene’, ‘Holding the Man’, ‘Wolf Creek 2’) is in charge of the Copperheads, his motorcycle gang, while the presidenk Knuck (Matt Nable, ‘Jasper Jones’, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’) is in prison. When Paddo’s mentally disabled brother Skink (Josh McConville, ‘Down Under’) steals some drugs, Paddo is forced to consider a partnership with their not-so-happy owner, Motu (Aaron Fa’aoso, TV’s ‘East West 101’, ‘Goldstone’). However, Knuck is getting out and looking to take back his old position in the gang - including reinstating his old, stubborn ways. As a rift begins to form in the gang, alliances are formed - and as the situation escalates, events draw towards an inevitable conclusion.
By basing itself in a gang with strong themes of brotherhood, we could have actually bore witness to something visceral and dynamic with ‘1%’. Instead, the story treads tried-and-true tropes that leave few surprises in store for the audience - and any that it could potentially have are revealed far too early on. This leaves the film feeling dramatically flat, and overly cluttered with characters which are barely introduced, giving the audience no context as to their placement in the gang’s hierarchy and therefore purpose in the story.
There’s nothing about the content that feels particularly fresh, either. We endure a brutal gang initiation procedure, the women in the story are supplementary characters who are treated terribly, and homosexuality is portrayed as dirty and insidious. This is particularly disappointing given director Stephen McCallum was responsible for GetUp’s ‘It’s Time’ commercials for marriage equality. The thematic ideas the film holds are now outdated, and don’t belong in 2018 cinema. We’ve all seen ‘Underbelly’ - and ‘1%’ also feels like it would have been more relevant back in 2008.
The cast are the strongest part of this film by a long shot. In all, Ryan Corr’s Paddo seems too quiet to be in charge of a big, aggressive bikie gang, with a performance ranging from mildly convincing to visually uncomfortable. Playing his girlfriend Katrina is Abbey Lee (‘The Neon Demon’, ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’), who fares much better - while wholeheartedly dedicated to Paddo, we see the manipulation begin to take hold as she becomes the devil on her boyfriend’s shoulder. Props should be given to Aaron Fa’aoso too, who manages to steal every scene that he’s in, despite getting limited screen time.
There’s no emotional investment in these characters. The audience has no reason to care about these characters, so when something bad eventually happens to them, there’s no empathy towards their situation, just emptiness.
The problem is that there’s no emotional investment in these characters. We don’t get to know them, other than their brash, brutish exteriors, even when we see them in their private lives away from their gang. Sure, Paddo’s kind of sweet at times to his “simple” brother (the film’s term, not mine), but it’s not enough to care about his inevitable outcome. This means that the audience has no reason to care about these characters, so when something bad eventually happens to them, there’s no empathy towards their situation, just emptiness.
As the film drags on - making 90 minutes seem like an eternity - that point seems to become the real issue: ‘1%’ is missing any real stakes, any real anticipation, any real tension. By the time we get to the big climax - the inevitable battle of the heavyweights - you’ll be left wondering what the point of it all is. The outcome was foretold from the very beginning, yet with such a flimsy story to get us to our conclusion, there’s nothing worthwhile for viewers to grasp on to. With an outdated idea that tells a tale we’ve all seen before, it would be impossible to say that this is a current-day “Australian story”: something which resonates with audiences, and something that they can relate to. Australian moviegoers deserve much better than this.