Director: Stephen McCallum
Screenwriter: Matt Nable
Runtime: 92 mins.
Australian release date: 18 October 2018
Previewed at: Dendy Newtown, Sydney, on 27 September 2018.
When you live in an inner-city suburb of Sydney where once a week, like clockwork, the roar of a bikie gang going on a run resonates around the ‘hood, you get a certain curiosity about outlaw motorcycle clubs. On rare occasions that scratch gets itched when an Aussie bikie film hits the screen, usually a violent and edgy exposé, and Stephen McCallum’s 1% doesn’t stray far from that formula. We’re talking about films like Sandy Harbutt’s ‘70s cult classic Stone and the 2012 TV series Bikie Wars: Brothers In Arms. Interestingly, the ex-rugby league player Matt Nable, who both wrote and stars in 1%, also featured prominently in Bikie Wars. He certainly looks the part. NB. The title refers to the 1% of motorcycle riders who are ‘patched’ to an OMCC, the other 99% being law-abiding riders.
While the leader of the Copperheads MC, Knuck (Nable), is residing at ‘Her Majesty’s pleasure’, the gang is being managed by his second-in-command, Paddo (Ryan Corr), who’s also trying to keep a lid on his mentally-challenged brother Skink (Josh McConville). Skink has been involved in a drug deal with a rival gang that got all messed-up and Sugar (Aaron Pedersen), who heads up the opposing MC, is out for his blood. Paddo wants to cut a deal that will not only save his bro but, through laundering their ill-gotten funds, will make everyone involved a big fat ‘legit’ profit. He’s a bit like The Wire’s Stringer Bell: he wants to use his brains and political skills to acquire security for the Copperheads’ future. The only problem is that Knuck is about to be released and, being old school, doesn’t want to see things change and he certainly doesn’t want to go into business with Sugar. The only way he knows to advance the interests of the club is through the use of violence. This clash of cultures inevitably leads to a physical clash between the two men that’s reminiscent of a Shakespearean drama, complete with rival queens - Paddo’s girlfriend Katrina (Abbey Lee) and Knuck’s wife Hayley (Simone Kessell).
As stated above, 1% is a fairly formulaic representation of bikie gangs in the way that issues are dealt with, however, in this case Matt Nable has constructed a story that shows that even bikies have feelings and attempt to behave reasonably at times. He explains, “The lens that I’m looking through is one of pure honesty and not holding anything back. These types of people do exist and this is what goes on. This is how they lose and this is how they hurt and this is how they love and this is how they hope and this is how hopeless their lives can be.” Even Knutt, who as the head of the gang must act as a force to be reckoned with, tries to instil a warped sense of morality in his mob; for example, he bans the personal use of drugs among the membership.
The film is set in, and shot in, Western Australia, and it looks grittily authentic. The leads, particularly Abbey Lee and Simone Kessell, are impressive and Josh McConville stands out as the impaired Skink. McCallum’s film, his first, takes its audience into a world that manages to deliver a pretty realistic interpretation of what it must be like on the inside of the 1%.