Bandits Review

Andy Hall has reviewed the theatrical release of Bandits. Released on Nov 30th, Barry Levinson’s comedy is not without its flaws, but is still an entertaining piece of cinema with some excellent performances.

A couple of more unlikely partners in crime it would be difficult to find than Joe Blake and Terry Collins. Blake (Bruce Willis) is the macho tough guy type, whereas Collins (Billy Bob Thornton) is an insecure obsessive-compulsive hypochondriac. Fate throws them together as acquaintances whilst in jail, they end up escaping from prison together in a (somewhat unlikely) jailbreak. On the road and on the run, they both decide that opening a club in Acapulco is their retirement dream. But that’s going to cost money, something they don’t have. So they plan to rob a few banks on the way from the northwest of America down to Mexico – but with a difference. Instead of breaking in during the night or holding the bank up during the day, they visit the bank manager the night before, stay with him (or her) overnight and accompany them into the bank first thing in the morning to rob it. This gives them the moniker of the “Sleepover Bandits” as they start getting famous in the media for their exploits. All is going to plan until the inevitable occurs – a woman comes between them. Kate Wheeler (Cate Blanchett) is a bored housewife with a husband who doesn’t care about her. Running (literally) into Collins she relishes the chance to be their “hostage” as an alternative to her dull life. She soon starts becoming involved with their bank robberies and then with the guys themselves, threatening to undermine all their plans. And all the while the police, and the media, are closing in on them.

As a caper / action / comedy / road movie, this is a film that could easily have tried to be too many things and been a master of none of them. But it works – mostly – due to a number of reasons. It’s a heavily character driven piece, and there are some excellent performances here. Billy Bob Thornton proves just how versatile an actor he his with a totally unexpected performance as a neurotic hypochondriac. Very different to the types of roles he is usually known for, but he his totally convincing. Likewise Cate Blanchett, usually known for serious roles such as the titular role in Elizabeth, gets the chance to really “cut loose” and play a sexy character, which she relishes. Bruce Willis is the weakest of the three central players, although to be fair his character is the least interesting, and his transformation from prison tough guy to a much mellower character throughout the film is perhaps a little too quick. Despite this, the writer Harley Peyton – best known for scripting Twin Peaks episodes – has produced a very sharp and witty screenplay, told in a strange “double flashback” method, with good interplay between the main characters.

As well as some excellent performances, the direction and cinematography help elevate the film to a higher level. It’s a road movie, and director Barry Levinson wanted to avoid a “sitcom” look so it’s largely shot on location. The cinematography captures a beautiful view of the West coast of America, giving the film a very unique feel. Helmed by a less experienced director the movie could have been very mundane, and while this is not close to his best work, Levinson’s presence on the project certainly gives it a quality feel.

It’s not without its shortcomings though. The running time clocks in at just over two hours, and that’s at least twenty minutes too much. Although it starts and then builds well, it drags quite heavily about two thirds of the way in, and more than once you will probably be looking at your watch and urging the end to come. When it does however, it is a pretty entertaining finale. Whilst the writing is generally good, there are a couple of occasions when the comedy sits uneasily with the subject matter; a scene where they have “kidnapped” the bank manager and his family and his wife is scared for her life is supposed to be funny – it isn’t.

On the whole this is an entertaining if somewhat overlong comedy caper movie that sports some excellent performances and is reasonably well handled by experienced director Barry Levinson. Despite some shortcomings, I would still recommend it as a witty and stylish piece of cinema.

Andy Hall

Updated: Nov 21, 2001

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