The 70’s. The golden age of modern cinema. The names of maverick genius. Scorsese, Coppola, De Nero and Burt Reynolds. Looking back with the benefit of hindsight ole Burt seems to just not fit in, but 20 years ago his films and cheeky rogue comedy stylings were just the thing for a comedy adventure for the undemanding.
Bandits is like he never went away. Bruce Willis IS Burt! In a film that feels like it was made in the 70’s for an audience that would rather the cinema had been turned into a bingo hall.
Bandits is the (loosely) based on fact, true story of Joe Dougherty and Terry Lee Conner, two kindly bank robbers (who, after a chance escape from jail) that hold up banks by means of going to the bank managers house the night before the raid, spending the night with them and their families, before going in to the bank the next morning before anyone gets there and cleaning out the vault. In Bandits these Robin Hood type figures are played by the aforementioned Willis and Billy Bob Thornton. Willis is the cheeky ladies man while Thornton is the neurotic, hypochondriac side kick type who only dreams of getting enough money so as they can open a hotel and restaurant in Mexico. (So keen is he on culinary skill, he even quizzes the wife of a hostage on what is in her spaghetti sauce and gives her tips on improving it!)
Also making up the team are the wannabe stunt man cousin of Willis, Harvey Pollard (Troy Garity) who is their getaway driver and hopelessly distracted by a pretty face, and neglected and lonely housewife Kate Wheeler (Cate Blanchett) who invites herself along to join the life of crime and then falls in love with both Joe and Terry, which of course leads to much tension and a love triangle. And a love triangle involving people with guns is never a good idea…
Each of the robberies is done well and is amusing in its own way, but the first ‘sleepover’ with the family at the dining table is really funny and Willis and Thornton show a real and genuine warmth towards their hostages (and since the children of the family are played by Willis’s own daughters I’m sure this wasn’t too difficult!) In fact most of the time they show so much warmth towards everyone you cant imagine how they ended up in a life of crime in the first place as they are nearer to social workers than desperados!
Since the movie starts of with a ‘true crime’ drama special reporting on the deaths of the ‘sleepover bandits’ the ending has a sense of gloom foreshadowing it, but the movie has an affability that is contagious and even though you don’t like the IDEA of the film it is just endlessly likeable. Barry Levinson's direction is on first glance simple and pedestrian, but is backed up beautifully by some amazing cinematography by Dante Spinotti, with some amazing uses of light that would not look out of place in a far more artistic and stylised film.
Willis grins throughout the film, Thornton is delightfully mad, Pollard is dopey but sweet and Blanchett does kooky like no-one since Goldie Hawn (and it’s a brave actress who would allow the terrible version of ‘Walk on By’ that she sings into any movie) Bandits is a charming and attractive film, that may also be instantly forgettable and leaves you with little more than a sense of satisfaction more than one of joy and perfection. Just like those old 70’s Burt Reynolds movies.
Sound and Picture
The sound is in Dolby Digital 5.1 and is clear throughout. Some of the real action scenes sound really good but then with a film this recent that surely is only to be expected. The picture is also clearly presented and contrasting, with the use of blues and greens sometimes standing out as particularly striking.
This disc has a lot of extras and most are fairly worthwhile.
First there is a commentary with Willis, Thornton, Blanchett, Garity and producer Paula Weinstein and writer Harley Peyton. This isn’t always the best commentary track in the world but there are some nice anecdotes by Thornton about his wife and how she took to faxing both him and the character he plays separately, telling the character of Terry that she hated him!!
The Documentary is also good and tells of how Willis almost played Thornton’s role while his was almost played by Val Kilmer! (Everyone silently thanks any deity they please at this point) it involves all the leads and explains why they were cast in the roles. Also revealing such titbits as the fact that Garity is Jane Fonda’s son and that the unbelievably loud belches preformed by Willis’s daughter are genuine and non sound enhanced (apparently this is just a talent she developed!)
There are 4 Deleted scenes, which partly deal with some more plot of the bandits helping out one of their hostages with a sticky problem of a mistress that wants to reveal all to the wife that evening! These scenes are good but ultimately you can see that they would have added too much to the running time.
Also included is an alternate ending that’s nice to watch and brings a smile to the face but really could be construed as a little weird and might just pose one too many questions! This can also be viewed with an audio commentary by Cate Blanchett.
As well as this there are the usual Trailer and advertising spot.
This film didn’t win any Oscars and didn’t make any critics best of year lists, but there really isn’t anything to dislike about it and it’s all out enjoyable. Just because you won’t remember it the next day doesn’t mean you can’t love it while it lasts.