Film Review © 2001 by Trip Reynolds
Crime Thriller, Drama
Directed by Frank Oz; Screenplay by Lem Dobbs, Kario Salem and Scott Marshall Smith from an original story by Daniel E. Taylor. Produced by Gary Foster and Lee Rich.
Starring Robert De Niro (as a pre-retirement safecracker, Nick Wells), Edward Norton (an extremely manipulative and devious crook, Jackie Teller and a.k.a. janitor "Brian"), Marlon Brando (as an elite, upscale fence, Max), Angela Bassett (as Wells' love interest, Diane), Gary Farmer (as Wells' bodyguard, Burt), and Paul Soles (as Danny).
It really doesn't get much better than this. Without question, this film is a tour de force of the finest acting you'll ever see, period. Margery Simkin did an excellent job casting this film! Frankly, I prefer spending less time writing this review and, instead, just tell you to go see the film! Yet, since I started with the intent to review this film I'm happy to complete the process. The story reminds me of classic film noir of the 1940s and 1950s where I'd imagine Humphrey Bogart in De Niro's role as the pre-retirement safecracker, Nick Wells, out to pull just one last job - his biggest score. I'd imagine Lauren Becal in Angela Bassett's role as his smart and independent love interest, Diane. I'd imagine Sidney Greenstreet in Marlon Brando's role as the upscale fence, Max. The extra added treat here is Edward Norton who, in my imaginary film noir classic would have probably been played by Peter Lorre, as the man-on-the-inside trying to get Max and Wells to join him in robbing the Montreal Customs House of a priceless French artifact worth over $30 million. Comparisons to the third and best version of Dashiell Hammett's detective classic The Maltese Falcon, directed by John Houston, are in a tribute, and not a put down.
Film has all of the elements you'd imagine in a classic: deceit, suspense, anticipation, the double-cross and most importantly, chemistry. Film reeks of chemistry between all of the main characters, yet each character has a separate, well developed identity of their own. Arguably, the standout here is Marlon Brando. Wow. With seemless effort Marlon Brando makes you think that, yes, he is Max, an elite fence. His gestures, his demeanor, damn, his presence all deny the fact that Marlon Brando is 77 years YOUNG. Based on past events, I have no idea how Mr. Brando would react, but I cast my vote right now that Marlon Brando receive the Academy Award for best supporting actor. Next, there's Edward Norton. In Primal Fear Norton single-handedly saved a fairly mediocre film, and in subsequent films like American History X, The People vs. Larry Flynt, and Fight Club he continued to demonstrate his brillance as an actor. This time out, Norton again displays an uncanny ability to dip in and out of distinctly different personalities. Norton's Jackie Teller presents himself as a mentally disabled person; Teller also gets the crap beat out of him; Teller beats the crap out of the person who was beating the crap out of him; and Teller plays a co-conspirator in mastermining a fantastic, inventive heist. I'd really like to see Edward Norton walk away with an Oscar, sooner than later. It's a mistake to continue to overlook his immense talent.
And then there's De Niro. Again, it really doesn't get much better than this. You can see - you can feel - De Niro's character, Nick Wells, thinking. Wells is not a fool. He's very smart, cautious and extremely deliberate in his actions, his entire life. Wells has lasted a lifetime as a thief by being smart, doing his homework, and adhering to two ironclad principles: always work alone, and never pull a job in your home town. When Nick's character said, "...I plan everything down to the very last detail..." you could feel that Nick, not De Niro, was telling the truth. Max and Teller want Nick to join them is this one last, big heist. At first, Nick would rather retire and live happily ever after with Diane, smartly played by Angela Bassett in a brief but nevertheless substantial role. Bassett's Diane wants Nick to walk away from his life of crime, right now. That's exactly what Nick had planned until he was faced with an offer he couldn't refuse (no pun intended). Getting back to the chemistry, Bassett and De Niro look good together, and despite the racial differences, as a couple, they are quite believable. This is a marvelously written script that engages you in the characters, not the actors. This is a film that requires acting, not some paint-by-numbers grandiloquent approach to acting typically displayed by Hollywood's picture boy or girl of the month.
Film has sharp direction by Frank Oz.
Film has a moderately paced running length of 123 minutes.
Recommendation: See first at a theater. Plus, when available, it's worth buying on DVD!