Toronto 2017: 1% review


★★☆☆☆
There are things to like about 1%, Stephen McCallum's debut feature about the head honchos of biker gang The Copperheads MC, scheming and duking it out in a power struggle. It's just that sadly, there's not a great deal to love, with the film never transcending its rote premise.

The Copperheads' President, Knuck (Matt Nable), just out of prison, is keen to reestablish himself as top dog after leaving the club in the capable hands of second-in-command Paddo (Ryan Corr). However, Paddo's girlfriend Katrina (Abbey Lee), has been whispering in his ear that he should be the leader of the Copperheads. Katrina is a paper-thin Lady Macbeth, a one-note girlfriend cliche played flatly by Lee who is left floundering by shallow writing. Her counterpart, Knuck's wife Hayley (Simone Kessell), fares slightly better with a subplot that sees Knuck cheating on her with men, a habit he apparently picked up in the clink.

Kessell brings an authentic presence to her character that somewhat obscures the cliches, but there's no doubting that 1%'s women are under served in this hyper-masculine fable. The standout performance is Nable, who invests his Knuck with a throbbing rage that threatens to bubble over at any second. He's a bloody-minded mule, openly prepared to cut off his nose to spite his face, and out of sheer stubbornness wrecks a business deal with a rival gang that Paddo set up at great cost. Where Paddo is a pragmatist, inspiring loyalty through more money for the gang and less heat from the cops, Knuck is purely old school, keeping his crew in check with the blunt end of a knuckle sandwich.

At 90 minutes, 1% doesn't outstay its welcome and Nable's performance is a compelling examination of unreconstructed masculinity in crisis. And there's a great deal of fun to be had watching leather-clad chopper heads knock seven bells of shit out of each other, back lit by enormous bonfires. If you can imagine what a biker film looks like, you probably know what to expect here. Sadly, though, that's the problem. As enjoyable, even occasionally compelling as McCallum's film is, 1% never steps outside of the predictable.

Ambition leads two former best friends becoming enemies? Check. Hot biker chick girlfriends? Check. Vulnerable family member unwittingly causing the hero endless problems? Check. This last one is possibly 1%'s weakest link. Paddo's brother Skink (Josh McConville), whose learning disability leads him into scrape after scrape, might as well have 'plot device' tattooed on his forehead. Skink's fecklessness provides a convenient inciting incident every time the screenplay runs out of things for Paddo and Knuck to fall out over. This sort of set up can work, but as with the rest of the film, 1% just doesn't have the depth to elevate its characters and their relationships above the rote.

For our full coverage of this year's Toronto Film Festival simply follow this link.

Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell

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