About midway through Felony all the intrigue fades away as you begin to realize there is nothing left for the story to tell. The film focuses on Malcolm Toohey (Joel Edgerton), a cop who drives home drunk after a night of celebrating and ends up hitting a young boy on his bike. He stops his car and calls the paramedics but once they arrive on the scene he doesn’t confess to his involvement in the crime and is aided in his cover-up by a fellow officer, Detective Carl Summer (Tom Wilkinson), whose holier-than-though new partner, Jim Melic (Jai Courtney), isn’t as convinced.
What follows is a lot of personal anguish as Malcolm does his best to rid his conscience of what he’s done. The boy he hit has just been induced into a coma and may not survive and he can feel Jim breathing down his neck or, more specifically, staring at him from across the room. To this point, the movie could have actually been called Staring Match for as much as these two guys trade questioning glances, which I guess makes sense considering there is nothing else for them to do. Jim can’t even conduct an investigation since there is no evidence outside of Malcolm’s 911 call, not to mention his partner and senior officer is aiding in the cover-up.
So, in an effort to give the audience something to watch as we wait for Malcolm to decide whether he will ever come clean or if Jim will eventually confront him, we’re privy to an investigation into some criminal activity Malcolm’s team is investigating while Carl and Jim search for evidence to convict a pedophile. Trouble is, neither of these investigations have any bearing on the plot. They simply exist to fill time.
Adding insult to injury, Jim has the hots for the injured boy’s mother (Sarah Roberts) and actually ends up having his unwanted advances rebuffed, and we mustn’t forget the cliched addition of a “just wait until you’re in trouble” line, because what other choice does the plot have but to go down the most obvious path?
What’s frustrating about the project, however, is that it does have some high points.
The screenplay, written by Edgerton, has some fantastic dialogue, all of which belongs to Wilkinson’s character, especially his rationale for why some people are meant for prison while others are not. But Wilkinson’s lines and stand out performance can’t right this ship.
Felony feels like the season finale for a second-rate television show confronted with the problem of needing to write out a few characters before the start of the next season. Unfortunately there isn’t enough material to pull it off and there are commitments to season-long plot threads left open and in need of closure.
I don’t mean to trivialize the severity of Malcolm’s crime (the film does a good enough job doing that on its own), but something so small typically becomes a small character defining piece of a much larger story so to make an entire feature film about it forces the storyteller to make some weird choices to ensure the film actually reaches a feature length. Felony faces these issues throughout.