99% of motorcyclists are law-abiding citizens.
The stage is set for a bloody dynastic struggle in Perth motorcycle club The Copperheads when founder and president Knuck (Matt Nable) is released from prison and reassumes command. In his absence, his regent Paddo (Ryan Corr) has pointed the gang towards more lucrative and less grisly enterprises, including a branded apparel range (!) and a money-laundering arrangement with a rival club led by the antagonistic Sugar (Aaron Pedersen, great as always). Knuck, being an old school thug, will have none of it, preferring to rule with the unalloyed and implicit threat of violence.
Tensions between the old warlord and his more agile lieutenant are exacerbated both by the machinations of Paddo’s ambitious girlfriend, Katrina (Abbey Lee), and the well-meaning stupidity of his mentally disabled brother, Skink (Josh McConville), whose thoughtless contravention of club rules puts him in Knuck’s sights. We don’t have to wait too long before civil war is in the offing and vast quantities of blood is inevitably spilled.
Shakespearean crime dramas are nothing knew — indeed, we don’t even have to stray outside the bikie subgenre, seeing as Kurt Sutter’s Sons of Anarchy (2008-14) is right there. However, the delight here is in the details. Within a familiar framework star-writer Nable and debut feature director Stephen McCallum have constructed a gritty, bloody-knuckled drama of mixed allegiances and generational conflict. Heroism in this unrelenting, violent milieu is in short supply, but also lacking is the very quality of loyalty — a grim irony seeing as how it is so frequently cited as the club’s most valued virtue. Almost everyone proves to be out for themselves when the chips are down, with the exception being Paddo, whose devotion to his brother, more than anything else, pushes him over the line into protagonist status.
1% excels at both presenting the rough-hewn glamour of its setting, with its brutal tribal customs and outlaw mystique, and revealing the hypocrisies that underpin the posturing. This most visibly manifests in Knuck’s sexuality, with the none-more-macho crime boss having developed a taste for younger men while in the slammer. Homosexuality being a sure sign of weakness in the hyper-masculine world he inhabits, he opts for rape over anything consensual — sex as an act of aggression and control lets him lie to himself about his identity. Indeed, Knuck’s need to conceal — even from his long-suffering wife Hayley (Simone Kessell) — what he perceives as his depravity, and the self-loathing that leads to, drives his increasingly aggro dominance displays and fuels the film’s violent climax.
Which is, to the surprise of none, an artfully staged siege shoot-out, because 1% is still an action thriller, and such things have certain beats that need to be hit. Taking his cues from LA Confidential’s Victory Motel gunfight, McCallum gives us a brutal, tense apotheosis that, thanks to the film’s debt to Shakespearean tragedy and the possibility that any and all could be hoist on their own petard in the final act, is all the more suspenseful.
1% doesn’t rewrite the rulebook, but it accomplishes miracles within its chosen genre parameters. If you’re looking for a fast, ferocious thriller with engine oil under its fingernails and blue ink across its knuckles, look no further.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Travis Johnson