Friday, 15 October 2010

Takers; the moral is that you need white guys to sort things out

Takers makes a useful parallel text for last week's The Town; flashy where the Town was all about being low key, stupid where The Town was trying to be intelligent and absolutely terrible with its female characters where The Town tried actually to HAVE female characters. In other words, it's kind of crap.

I'd hoped for a lot more, since it had Idris Elba, and Idris tends to elevate most things that he's in, almost as though David Simon had said to him "Listen, you. I brought you over from London because I needed something extra, and I gave you Stringer Bell to play. And if you ever do anything that makes Stringer Bell look bad, I'm going to get all those real criminals we hired for the Wire to come and beat you to within an inch of your useless limey life." Idris is good, and considering all they could think of to do with Marianne Jean-Baptiste, their other English ringer, was to make her into some kind of crack-addled idiot, she's good too. That's about all my good. It falls off a cliff a bit after that.

Idris is the ringleader of a gang of impossibly smooth bank robbers. Two of them are white dudes, and four of them are black. There's never any convincing reason put forward for how this weird mix would have happened, unless you want to buy into the idea that it's all happening in a parallel universe where colour doesn't matter in the USA any more. And honestly, I don't think that Obama's changed things THAT much yet. As a gang, they're profoundly annoying, because the whole point of their life of crime seems to be fuelling a non musical re-enactment of the rat pack. Hayden Christensen is one of the two white guys, and his characterisation consists entirely of a Frank Sinatra hat. The hat doesn't have any lines, but it's somewhat more recognisable than Christensen and has more personality than any of Idris' five subordinates.

Up against the gang is Matt Dillon as the driven robbery homicide detective trying to find them. It's been a long time since Matt Dillon was in any ways essential to anything, and his by-the-numbers driven cop is not going to change that. He's a wild card, dammit. He's a loose cannon. He's out of control. He roughs up suspects, but dammit, he gets results. Well, yeah. The one time we see him roughing up a suspect, what he beats out of him is the first name of the person who was arrested by the same officer who arrested the roughed up suspect. If Matt had asked the arresting officer who else he picked up that evening, he could have got MORE information than he got with the beat-up. Matt has a partner, who is even more of a cliche than he is; he's a family man, with a sick kid, who keeps telling Matt he should give more time to family. So inevitably the partner winds up making a big mistake to help his family, and it all ends sadly. Within moments of the foreshadowing scenes we're given, we know it can only go one way and drearily it goes that way.

Which is a shame, because the partner, in keeping with tradition, is played by a nice affable actor who's working harder with the material than it deserves. And there's one little twist in the thing which made me think that the writers were smart enough to go a better way; for the front half of the movie, Internal Affairs are eternally trying to get Matt Dillon to meet with them, and he keeps evading and ignoring them. As the final act begins, they finally manage to frog march him down to their offices and it turns out that they haven't been trying to charge him for all his random acts of violence but to warn him that his partner is dirty. The one genuinely novel thing in the whole movie is that Internal Affairs turn out to be pretty nice guys just doing their best to be human. A little more of that kind of thinking would have done the movie the world of good.

There's some good action set pieces, or what would be good action set pieces if they hadn't been jitter edited to the point where I think you could genuinely give someone a seizure by sitting them too close to the screen. The opening robbery is genuinely quite clever, and the big steal in the middle of the movie is a nice mix of careful planning and last minute improvisation which would have been better if it hadn't been edited in a blender. There's an exhausting foot chase which just goes on too long and almost seems to have been put in because the actor thought he was good at parkour. And there's a huge shootout in a hotel room which goes on too long, is too blender-edited, and steals way too much from the shootout at the end of True Romance without being anything like as interesting. Midway through it, Hayden Christensen gets shot to bits buying the rest of the gang time, making our first white martyr of the evening.

Anyhow, by this point it's all fallen apart into the classic big steal undercut by big betrayal, and the gang breaks up and gets picked off by the police until there's just the big traitor facing off with Idris and Matt in a three way shoot out which ends up with everyone shot, but the traitor still on his feet and ready to give Idris the coup de grace, when along comes the OTHER white member of the gang to shoot the traitor, rescue Idris and generally save the day. Amazingly this dumb cop out, "it takes a white guy to make everything work out properly" ending is not the most annoying thing in the movie because I have not touched on what happens with women.

The Town doesn't exactly have strong female characters; you've got Blake Lively playing a trashy bimbo who Affleck discards and Rebecca Hall playing the girl who gets taken hostage by the robbers and falls for Ben Affleck; I mean they're basically a pair of plot coupons and it's no accident that I barely described them in last week's review. But they're Joan Crawford with the whole damn movie to herself compared to what Takers gives the ladies to play with. Marianne Jean-Baptiste plays Idris Elba's crack addict older sister who exists mainly to disrupt Idris' plans and give him something human to worry about. Amazingly, they then hired Zoe Saldana to play the girlfriend of one of the gang, a girl so important that the whole betrayal plot is driven by the fact that she took up with a fresh gang member when her original boyfriend got jailed. This pivotal role has about five lines and she gets murdered off screen. This is Zoe Saldana. I'm not saying that she's the next Meryl Streep, but her talents are not negligible, and they give her less to do than Hayden Christensen's hat. For this crime alone, Takers is a terrible movie.

No comments: