By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com
Voynaristic Review: Takers
Takers won’t win any awards or set a new watermark for spectactular heist films, but for what it is — a rather generic heist film with a mostly decent ensemble cast and one very good performance by Matt Dillon — it’s mostly harmless. If you’re a particularly passionate fan of any of the ensemble cast, you might even find it moderately entertaining.
Here’s what we have here, in a nutshell: this is your standard “brotherhood of thieves” heist set-up with the brotherhood being comprised of alpha male Gordon (Idris Elba, smooth as silk and pretty good here), Hayden Christensen as A.J., the guy on the team who builds things, Paul Walker as John, apparently the designated “bagman” of the crew, and Michael Ealy and Chris Brown as Jake and Jesse, the Brothers Attica, who are joined in crime, apparently groomed for the hard-knock life by their father, who we learn, is currently cooling his heels in prison.
The opening scenes of the film establish the gang as being not so bad, really — for a group of guys who pull off armed heists for a living. Sure, they rob banks and blow stuff up, but they have a code of not hurting people. Stealing money from The Man/banks/armored trucks = cool, shooting anyone in the process = bad, see?
Also, they have honor amongst themselves, and rules, such as they are: they don’t pull more than one job a year, to avoid calling attention to themselves and lessen the risk of getting caught; they share their money equally, investing it together into offshore accounts (there’s a particulary amusing scene where they are discussing the solvency of their various investment funds); and, above all, they tithe a standard 10% off the top to selected, agreed upon charities. So they’re thieves, yeah, but mostly nice, uniformly good-looking guys who just, you know, happen to steal money for a living.
They also have a code about what happens if any one of them should get caught in the course of a job, which can basically be summed up as: Sorry, dude, but you’re screwed. The Code requires that anyone caught keeps his lips sealed and does not rat out his comrades, period, and that there be zero contact between any team member who lands in prison for the duration of his sentence. In return for keeping the code, the group will in turn hold onto his share of the earnings, duly invest them for him, and return to him his rightful portion once he’s out of the slammer.
Enter Ghost (Grammy winning rapper T.I., aka Clifford Joseph Harris, who also exec produced the film — and, in real life spent nine months in the slammer on federal weapons charges not so long ago), the smooth-talking former leader of the pack, fresh out of prison and eager to get back in business with the boys.
Which leads us into a variation on the “one last job” crime movie, although in this case it’s Ghost who brings his former brotherhood a gig they can’t refuse: a $20 million heist of an armored car. The catch: it has to be done in five days, which is way less time than the team, particularly the more cautious Gordon and Jake, like to have to properly prepare for a job. But still … $20 million is a lot of millions, and the info T.I. provides the guys seems almost too good to be true (which should maybe have been a hint to just say no, but then we wouldn’t have a movie, would we?).
A plan is hatched, and we get to see each of the guys doing his thing in his area of expertise, and everyone, as you might imagine, is pretty tense about trying to pull off this thing in just five days, but Ghost keeps acting the cheerleader, as if by non-stop patter he might dissuade them from stopping to reconsider and, perhaps, deciding to go live off the last haul for a while, and maybe spend the next year planning this job.
Sure, Ghost has the armored truck route maps, but hell, if you can pay the mob to sit on a dispatcher once to steal some route maps, you could do it again later, am I right? But these guys? Their motto seems to be that you gotta bet big to win big — or to lose big. But these guys are just successful enough, just good enough at what they do, and just cocky enough, to believe they can’t lose.
Anyhow, stuff of the “planning a big heist” variety happens in a sort-of montage, and meanwhile, standing in the way of the guys succeeding in their Big Heist are Matt Dillon and Jay Hernandez as Welles and Hatch (better names, I suppose, than Turner and Hooch), a pair of bad-ass detectives determined to bust the bank job we saw at the beginning of the film.
What follows is more or less standard heist film fare, with the exception of a particularly well-shot and fairly exciting foot chase scene between Brown and Dillon that left me gasping for breath myself. There’s the usual involvement of Internal Affairs messing with Welles and Hatch to add some tension, a little police brutality and a failed marriage tossed into the mix and, for good measure, some particularly bad-tempered Russian mobsters. And there’s betrayal, of course, but I’m not saying who betrays whom or why. It should be fairly obvious to everyone (except, apparently, the folks in the film) what’s going to go down, but so long as you can handle some predictability in your plot, that shouldn’t mess it up too bad for you.
A couple of things (predicatability and paint-by-numbers plot aside) did bother me though. For one thing, Zoe Saldana is in this film, and she is used as nothing more than arm decoration for Jake and a source of tension between him and Ghost, her former flame. Now, if you are going to go to the trouble to cast in your film an actress who is admittedly hot, like Saldana, but also undeniably intelligent and capable of turning in an actual performance when you challenge her a bit, why would you not take advantage of that?
Why can’t the Brotherhood have a Sister in the mix — perhaps even a Sister who’s wicked smart on top of being hot, who is, maybe, the planning brains of the whole operation? Or something, anything, besides just the standard Hot Chick/Arm Candy. Blergh.
Next annoying thing: the casting of an actress as incredibly talented as Marianne Jean-Baptiste (you may remember her from Mike Leigh film Secrets and Lies) as Naomi, Gordon’s crack-addicted older sister, of all things. I mean, yes, her presence ups the “talent” factor considerably, and yes, she is very convincing in the role, and yes, the character of Naomi does add considerable tension and motivation to Gordon’s character and humanizes him greatly. But for all that, she, like Saldana, is vastly underused, showing up mostly to gum up the works and distract Gordon from focusing on The Plan.
And lastly: SPOILER WARNING
There is a big shoot-out scene near the end between Our Heroes (here, the Good Guys) and the Russian mobsters (here, the Bad Guys) in which they completely obliterate several rooms of a luxury hotel in LA in slow-mo, to, of all things, heartfelt, sad violin music that would be more in place in a film about Irish gangsters. Not only is the use of music here distracting by the oddness of its puzzling existence here, but the scene itself drags on … and on … and on.
And if you were really a pack of gangsters shooting the hell out of each other in a luxury hotel in any major city in the United States, you can bet your ass there would be cops swarming everywhere in about two seconds flat. But here, apparently every cop within a five-mile radius of this luxury hotel was off getting coffee and donuts or whatever, because they sure take their sweet damn time about it, to the point that you want to yell at the screen, “For cripes sake, whats the matter with you? Get out of there already!”
Anyhow. The best laid plans of gangster men go awry,as they almost always will in heist films, and the rest of the story unfolds to its dramatic, heart-pounding conclusion. And I’m not even being sarcastic there — the last third or so of the film really clips along, as the guys get closer to executing their plan and Welles, hot on their trail and with cop instinct on his side, circles ever closer. I personally felt the end of the film was a bit (actually, a lot) of a cheat, with the writers wanting to have it both ways and tying some loose ends up a little too nicely, but then again I’ve been known to favor a little ambiguity in films, so maybe it bugged me more than it will you.
Is Takers a great film? Nah, but it’s not the worst film of the year, either (Furry Vengeance, I might just be looking at you …). Look, this is just the kind of movie you want to see if you want to just chill out a bit and not think too hard. If I was coming down of 10 days of hardcore, intellectually challenging, artsy and experimental and serious films at Toronto, Takers is just the kind of not-too-challenging fare I would go with.
I maybe wouldn’t pay $11 to see it in the theater, but I’d probably rent it from pay-per-view or catch it on cable and not be unhappy I did. If you’re a fan of Matt Dillon and want to see him do a pretty excellent job within a fair-to-middling film, or a T.I fan curious to see him as an actor, you probably won’t be unhappy paying to see Takers in theater. The rest of you, eh. Hold out for cable or pay-per-view, it’ll keep.