Greek tragedy gets an outlaw biker makeover in Stephen McCallum’s gritty Australian 1%er saga Outlaws. The director and writer Matt Nable (who also co-stars) lay the epic roadmap over the criminal framework of macho, vest-wearing men and their motorcycles, power struggles, lust, betrayal, and more. The pieces are in place, it never strays far from violence, and the whole thing looks ready to roll, and the result is…okay.
Paddo (Ryan Corr) has been running the Copperheads while Knuck (Nable) rots in jail, building the club’s empire to unforeseen levels of prosperity. He’s smart and fair and loved by the men. But when Knuck gets out, the two butt heads over the direction and the two alpha males clash for supremacy and control.
Of course, each man has an Achilles heel. Paddo’s is his simpleton idiot brother, Skink (Josh McConville), who can’t stay out of trouble. At times it seems like Skink’s problem is some trauma or PTSD, others is seems like drugs are his downfall, and still others he just seems like a moron. For Knuck, it’s a secret he picked up in the joint that he can’t share with anyone on the outside.
Outlaws, also known as 1%, watches like it’s following a checklist. The plot sticks to the classic tragedy template so closely it lacks any sort of surprise or interest. It’s like Shakespeare with rumbling Harleys and black leather, and it’s painfully obvious where we’re headed every step of the way. Quite simply, it never adds anything new to the recipe—it plays out as expected and ends precisely where you guess it will.
McCallum and Nable try to have it both ways. On one hand, Outlaws wants to be a brutal, bloody exploitation biker thriller. At times it accomplishes this—it culminates in a vicious, unsentimental climactic battle, and there’s a lot of prison rape—but it never fully dives into the trash bin and wallows in the muck. And on the other hand, it aims to be a brooding meditation on violence with deep motivations and drives, an aim it also fails to achieve. Without committing to either approach, it can’t strike a balance between high and low—it’s never brutal enough to satisfy one ambition, nor deep enough to satisfy the other.
All the characters are stock types. Corr plays the noble hero with a new way, Nable the stubborn old guard who cares so much about power it blinds him to the benefits—he turns down a profitable business deal with a rival club out of sheer spite, because of course this character would.
And women have it worst of all. Outlaws is so manly only two female characters occupy any significant space. There are a few party girl hangers on, but only Abbey Lee’s Katarina and Simone Kessell’s Hayley have any bearing on the film—and their defined solely as Paddo and Knuck’s old ladies, respectively. They exist primarily as sex objects or to lead the men to ruin like Sirens, feeding their egotistical ambitions, whispering betrayal and doubt into their ears.
Outlaws is a pretty film to look at, shot with no shortage of flair, and it might momentarily fill a Sons of Anarchy void, if you have such a gaping hole in your life. At times it strives for something different, but in the end, it never strays off of the established path and is a movie we’ve all seen many times. [Grade: C]
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