The mood of tense local thriller Felony owes much to the atmospheric crime dramas of '70s Hollywood, say the movie's director Matthew Saville and cinematographer Mark Wareham.
Matthew Saville

27 Aug 2014 - 4:44 PM  UPDATED 24 Feb 2015 - 10:29 AM

In Felony, Joel Edgerton plays a detective who covers up his involvement in a crime. Tom Wilkinson is his cop mate and mentor eager to go along with the lies for his own reasons, while Jai Courtney is an ambitious young detective bent on nailing the truth.

In their own words, director Matthew Saville and cinematographer Mark Wareham (ACS) explain how they were influenced by movies of the 1970s.

“This wasn’t going to be another cop film”

Mark Wareham: When we first talked about the style, we didn’t talk visuals. We talked about the moral dilemma of Mal (Joel Edgerton). This wasn’t going to be another cop film.

Matthew Saville: Mark isn’t just a fine cinematographer. He understands emotion. Making a pretty picture isn’t the important thing – it’s the meaning. Coppola said of The Conversation it was about privacy. Felony is about control. The situation is out of control. The characters are trying to correct something that isn’t possible to correct.

Saville: A key reference was Klute (Alan J. Pakula, 1971). Our title sequence has a recording too. But we use a waveform, so it’s 21st century. Our title is in red too.


Wareham: Matt likes to work on the dark side of the spectrum – he likes to explore chiaroscuro. He didn’t want it to feel like an action film in the action parts of the film.


Above: Donald Sutherland as John Klute (cinematography by Gordon Willis).


Above: Joel Edgerton as Mal in Felony.


“Every frame of the film had to be witnessed by one of the three main characters”

Saville: “Another reference was directed by a '70s icon, Sidney Lumet: Q&A (1990). Not just visually but also in its form: three diametrically opposed individuals at loggerheads over a crime and the repercussions of that crime and each approaching it from a different philosophy.”

Above: Tim Hutton and Nick Nolte in Sidney Lumet’s Q&A (1990)


Above: Jim (Jai Courtney) and Carl (Tom Wilkinson) at the scene of the crime. (Image: Roadshow Films)


Saville: Every frame of the film had to be witnessed by one of the three main characters.

Above: Jim (Jai Courtney) looks on with suspicion as Mal (Edgerton) explains the accident.


Above: After knocking a kid off a bike Mal reports the accident without admitting his involvement. (Image: Roadshow Films)


“When Tom and Joel are acting up a storm you just want to get closer and closer...” 

Saville: There’s an incident in the film where Mal clips a kid on a bike and the kid is injured. I wanted it to happen before you even notice it. I wanted it to be frighteningly undramatic.

Wareham: It was important to make people understand how Joel feels: he’s a guy doing a job, but he still is a normal person who suffers emotional anxiety.

Saville: Mark is good at seizing upon certain ‘accidents’ that happen on set that fit. On this particular night it rained. At night it looks beautiful.

The car windows started fogging. We thought should we put the demister on? And Mark said no, no, no…


Saville: Ang Lee was once asked why he put the camera in a certain place and he replied that I ‘put it where I would like to be standing if I was watching this unfold’.


Saville: When Tom and Joel are acting up a storm you just want to get closer and closer…

As told to Peter Galvin.