Australian biker gang drama 1% made its Toronto International Film Festival debut on Friday as part of the festival’s Discovery program, which focuses on up and coming new directors from around the world. In 1% Stephen McCallum, first time feature filmmaker, takes us into the sometimes perilous sometimes sheltered lives of some very dangerous individuals in Australia’s biker gang underworld. The film centers around Mike (Ryan Corr) the acting president of the Copperheads motorcycle club who has been leading the gang while actual president Knuck (Matt Nable) is serving time in prison. Mike has made the best of his time on top and has led the gang well. However, just before Knuck is to be released, Mike is forced into a money laundering deal with a rival motorcycle gang, that would see the rivals take a 30 percent share of the Copperheads’ laundered cash, in order to save his mentally challenged brother Adam (Josh McConville) who has been stealing heroin. Upon release Knuck’s first act as returned president is to put a stop to the money laundering deal thus placing Adam back in the line of fire and Mike, who the rivals are still open to working with, in a tough situation. This kicks off a struggle for power that slowly builds to a breaking point between both Mike and Knuck.
1% certainly takes a grungy approach to it’s subject matter, at times, depicting for instance the club’s debaucherous celebrations or wild initiation rituals, where the initiate is severely beaten to determine if they can take the pain. However, the film is in no ways a typical genre outing, but rather a much more poignant and delicate character drama. The focus here is on the slow burning fuse that leads up to a head to head clash for power between former and current Copperheads president, two characters who couldn’t be more different. While Mike is a level headed individual who really seems to want to avoid major conflict and would be perfectly content to remain vice president and right hand man in any other situation, Knuck, by contrast, is a wild and brash leader dead set on maintaining his authority at all costs. Adding to the boiling pot are Katrina and Hailey (Simone Kessell), Knuck’s longtime girlfriend, who each want to see their man as top dog of the Copperheads. Each try, behind closed doors, to manipulate their significant others into taking down the other man, in a Lady MacBeth sort of fashion, but also have some great moments jawing at each other in the open under the icy facade of courtesy, until their struggle too reaches a boiling point.
McCallum does a nice job of counterpointing the two worlds that Mike exists in. One of those being the Copperheads ruthless base of operations (a warehouse turned bar/clubhouse) where the vice president must keep up his macho masculine demeanor, despite facing enormous indecision, and the other his suburban home where he lets down his guard only to be manipulated time and again by Katrina, the only person he opens up to.
Mike’s struggles are handled delicately, the results of this are found in his convincing arc, and the story serves as a satisfying character drama. You won’t necessarily find in 1% anything too shocking or wholly original, but what you will come across, due to a competent script and good execution on all fronts, is a compelling piece worthy of your time.
1% will screen at TIFF on Sept. 16 at Scotiabank at 9:00 PM and Sept. 15 at Scotiabank 10 at 12:00 PM.