Published on June 15th, 2008 | by simeon0
The American Bandit has been popularized in American society dating back to the old west. Such notorious individuals as Billy the Kid, Jessie James, Bonnie and Clyde, and even Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hold a special romance to many.
Sociologists have pondered if charisma, the thrill of danger, or projection of inner fantasies have led people to romanticize certain criminals to folk hero status, despite the fact that many of them were violent individuals who met a bloody end.
Times have changed and in these violent times, much of the luster for hardened criminals has waned as the media constantly feeds us images and reports of violence on a nightly basis. However, the old world charm of the so called, “Gentleman Bandits” still appeals, as people always like to support the underdog, especially if the believe the people are out for a good cause.
In the new film “Bandits” viewers are introduced to Joe Blake and Terry Collins (Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton). The two are good friends who are serving time in an Oregon prison for bank robbery. The two are also at first glance a mismatch. Joe is very suave and charming, yet has an issue with anger management we are told by Terry. Terry on the other hand, is a hypochondriac of epic proportions as he is constantly complaining about all sorts of ailments and fretting about what is the next ailment he will be forced to endure.
When an unexpected opportunity arises, Joe seizes the moment and escapes prison dragging Terry along with him. Being on the lamb, Joe and Terry realize that they need money and soon return to what they know best, robbing banks. While fleeing the police after a robbery, the two fugitives hide in a home that is occupied by a teenager and her hormone driven boyfriend Phil. It seems the girl’s parents are away for a trip, and she is staying home unknown to her parents so she can be with her boyfriend. Terry decides that they can use this situation long term, and he organizes a plan that will lower their risks and increase their haul.
Joe and Terry decide to stake out a bank and the night before they strike, they hold the bank manager and his family hostage and stay the night with them. In the morning, they all go to the bank before it opens, rob the bank, and leave the family and staff safely tucked away. This earns the team the name “The Sleepover Bandits” Joe also brings in a driver (Troy Garrity, son of Jane Fonda), who is also an aspiring stuntman.
The team is a big success as they become legends thanks to the media and especially a “Americas Most Wanted” style show called “Crime Stoppers” that follows their exploits amongst growing ratings.
Joe and Terry plan to work their way down the coast into Mexico and gather enough money to open their own nightclub. Joe does not see what they are doing as stealing, as he says the government insures the money, and since he believes they have been stealing, he like a modern day Robin Hood believes is taking back what was wrongfully taken.
As the saying goes, into ones life some rain must fall, and Terry is nearly killed when he tries to stop a speeding car in order to make a getaway. The car is driven by a frustrated and depressed housewife named Kate (Cate Blanchett). Kate accompanies Terry to the gangs meeting place, as after a job, they split up for two weeks, and then meet again to go to their next job, and Terry is unsure what to do with this crazy lady. Before long, Kate becomes one of the gang and is involved with Joe.
Before you know it, Kate ends up in hiding with Terry during their two-week hideout, and a love triangle soon follows. Fuel is only added to the fire when the media begins to think that Kate is not a hostage but rather a Patty Hearst style accomplice who is helping the gang. Needless to say, tensions mount, and division’s form amongst the group.
The film is told in flashbacks as the opening of the film involves a robbery that has obviously not gone as planned and Joe and Terry argue over how it was that woman that did this to them and ruined them. While the flashbacks at time spoil what is to come, there is a nice twist that helps the story along and explains why the characters are acting in a way that is so unlike what they have previously established as their normal behavior.
The biggest problem that I had with the film was the pacing. Early in the film, it moves along at a steady pace. However, once Kate enters the picture, the pacing slows way down. We do get some nice scenes of character development, but the cast spends a lot of time doing nothing, and chatting about noting in particular. With a running time of 120 minutes, I believe 15-25 minutes could have been trimmed that would have greatly increased the pacing of the film. Midway through the movie, I found myself bored on more than one occasion, and I wished the film would hurry to the climax that had been shown earlier in the film.
Scenes of the group sitting on the beach, in a bar, or in their rooms were nice but added nothing but length to the film, and did not add to the characters. It seemed as if these scenes were improvised, as they were not essential to the story and ruined the pacing of the film to the point of boredom.
Veteran director Barry Levinson gets fantastic performances out of his male leads, as Thornton gives a tour de force performance as Terry. We can see that his hypochondria masks a very intelligent and caring individual who struggles to find himself, but is never anyone’s victim, and stands up for himself when needed. Despite his quirks, he is very good at what he does, and Joe knows this. Willis gives a great performance as Joe, as he is charming and confident, and commands the screen. The chemistry between Thornton and Willis is great and they work very well with one another in both the serious and comedic scenes.
The biggest problem with the cast was that Kate Blanchett was given little to work with, as she is the most undefined character in the film. We know Kate is a sad and lonely housewife, we know her husband is inattentive towards her, yet even though she has the most established background of any of the characters, Kate is often reduced to being little more than the love interest in the film, and her quirks are emphasized more than the real person underneath her exterior.
Furthermore, we are shown early in the film that Joe has an anger management issue, as Terry has to pull Joe off a fellow inmate in a prison boxing match after the inmate hits Joe with a cheap shot. Terry calms Joe him by telling him to work on his anger management, however Joe later shows very little anger and is actually the calmer of the two.
Is “Bandits” a great film? In a word no. However, it is a film that features some solid performances and does have some very entertaining moments. I found the pacing of the film and an ending that was far to Hollywood spoiled what could have been a true classic, yet if you can sit through some slow moving segments that had many in the preview audience squirming in their seats, then “Bandits” is sure to entertain.
3 stars out of 5