It’s refreshing to see a quality summer film that doesn’t rely on special effects to make a good impact on the audience. Director Frank Oz (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Bowfinger) starts the film with a sequence gives a glimpse into the life of an experienced thief named Nick, well played by Robert De Niro, who looks for a change of heart and a change of lifestyle that would put his life with his girlfriend, a stewardess named Diane, played by Angela Bassett, on firm ground. Max, played by classic film legend Marlon Brando, keeps Nick in the game as his main contact who arranges buyers for the merchandise he steals.
A younger character, well played by Edward Norton (Primal Fear, American History X), finds his way into Nick and Max’s lives. Norton’s past screen characters and chameleon-like acting talents allow Oz manipulate possible twists and surprises in the plot from the audience. For example, he raises suspicion right away when he changes a key detail from 3 weeks to a couple weeks then back to three. He establishes trust by helping Nick avoid the police during a stake out scene, but raises suspicions when he obsesses about Nick’s whereabouts and constantly touts his needs and wants.
Norton’s character is without fault though. For instance, if he’s so smart and capable, why is he not concerned about leaving fingerprints during the film’s climax?
Filmmakers wisely keep important elements of the film in the forefront and even give the audience some foreshadowing hints throughout the plot – if you pay attention to them. The characters don’t have last names because it’s not important, especially given the characters’ professions. All elements, from a seemingly casual jog to observations in an underground tunnel, get great closure which represents the main strength of this complete and entertaining film.
The teacher and student element is played down as Nick offers Norton’s character one piece of advice during an interior scene in a restaurant. Oz wisely gives the audience what they want with several scenes of DeNiro, Brando, and Norton together including a great scene where all three main characters have a sit down and go through a detailed plan that leads to the film’s climax.
The only problem I had with this film was the moral issues surrounding the thieves that the audience must assess. Is it right to feel sympathy for Nick? He tries to change his ways, but he has stolen millions of dollars of items in his lifetime. Filmmakers wisely omit any visual flashbacks into Nick’s past because they don’t want you to concentrate on this aspect of Nick’s life. The thief characters are likeable, but there always that inevitable conclusion that crooks will get caught eventually.
Also filmmakers forgot to make Nick’s hideout full proof by including a big glass window in the set design. Other logistic problems like how a camera coming from the floor makes too much noise and could’ve been covered with plastic or foam or something.
Oz does a great job directing in a new genre which solidifies his talents as a complete filmmaker and voice talent actor. Notice the camera placement and the space between Nick and Diane when Nick initially proposes quitting his thief profession. Also notice how the camera is off center during sequences when the thief characters are in locations where they can get caught for what they’re doing.
This technique puts tension and added emotion on to the screen because the audience wonder if the thief characters will get caught.
The climax sequence is great and really stays true to the characters while entertaining the audience. It gives new meaning to the phrase “leaving you hanging”.
Howard Shore (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia) puts together a great musical score that low key then loud, just like the life experiences of a profession thief. Recommended (*** out of four stars) and rated R for language and violence.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler