View Date: April 15th, 2002

Rating: ($$$ out of $$$$$)


Bruce Willis Joe Blake
Billy Bob Thornton Terry Collins
Cate Blanchett Kate Wheeler
Troy Garity Harvey Pollard
Brian F. O'Byrne Darill Miller
Stacey Travis Cloe Miller
Bobby Slayton Darren Head

Directed by:
Barry Levinson 

Written by:
Harley Peyton

Related Viewings:
Out of Sight (1998)
Sneakers (1992)
Quick Change (1990)

Ruthless People (1986)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

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For all of its predictability and silliness, there is a truly charming and touching undertone to Bandits.  Barry Levinsonís modern-day adaptation of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid has a likeable quality, due to itís the appeal of its characters, the performers playing them, and a few things that it wants or tries to do with the story.  Unfortunately, it misses occasionally, resorting back to some typical, sometimes improbable or ridiculous traits at times, but these are overshadowed by the touching, occasionally ironic, details that Levinson gives to his characters, and his tale, and the ending, that while not wholly original or unique, effectively conveys the spirit of the film and its characters.

Like it could have been ripped from the headlines, Bandits storyline involves two bank robbers, affectionately known as the Sleepover Bandits (taken from their modus operandi of kidnapping a bank manager the night before, staying at their house, then robbing the bank before it opens the next morning, not original, but effective and entertaining because its not beaten into the ground) Joe (Willis, is obviously the more criminal and rugged of the two, as he does most of the dirty work and intimidating, while Terry (Thornton) is not only the brains and sensitive side of the duo, but is also hypochondriac and avid reader (of some rather useless information). Terry has a tendency to adopt symptoms, based only upon hearing about them, or reading about them.  During one of their getaway, Terry encounters an unhappy housewife (Blanchett) who, after hitting him with her car, decides that their life is much more interesting and fun than their own.  What follows, of course, is the romantic angle of things, developed intelligently, but not overdone, as they progress towards their goal to escape to Mexico to open a bar.  Along for the ride as well, is Willisís less than intelligent, impulsive cousin, who becomes inexplicably obsessed with a recurring hitchhiker.  The story is actually told in retrospect, through the eyes of a crime show television host (gravelly voiced comedian Bobby Slayton) who is forced to do an interview with them, after they break into his house.  The movie becomes mostly a retrospective look at how they came to be in their present predicament, which as the movie opens, is trapped inside a bank (called the Alamo).  Iíve really only touched upon the surface of things, as Levinson playfully explores the chemistry between the people and the repercussions or benefits of their actions.  Levinson does Bandits in the playful but honest spirit of Butch Cassidy and The Sting, by showing those that we consider as societyís malcontents, in a more favorable light than most would.  I feel that criminals, and movies like this, touch upon a darker side of our human spirit, that which desires to be reckless, to rebel against authority and lifeís rules, and to live free, or die trying.  This is pulled off, in no small part, due to the screenplay and performances, which lend a believable credence to it all

Willis is at his best playing the smart-aleck tough guy, who may or may not have the heart of gold, while Thornton has a range and repertoire that never ceases to amaze me.  Blanchett adds another perspective to her already chameleon-like resume of characters, playing someone just slightly removed from her Pushing Tin character, but much more enjoyable to watch.  Levinson has such a magic touch with his movies, eliciting great performances, from the simplest of premises

Ultimately, Bandits is a playful little piece of Americana that works much more than it doesnít, at being humorous, insightful, and relevant all without exceeding any boundaries.  The portrayal of bank robbers, as modern-day Robin Hoods (using the insured money justification) is questionable in motive, but can be sometimes entertaining when you think about the fact that most criminals are or at least were, normal people with feelings, likes, dislikes, quirks, habits, hobbies and dreams.  It just so happens that they believed their path to all of this justified them running afoul of the law.  Bandits portrays the criminals in this light, but sometimes sugar coats the fact that these are people who break the law, which is sometimes reflective of a society and culture that does the same.  By using the media, and the retrospective storytelling style, Levinson attempts, and sometimes succeeds, in capturing this aspect of glorification and deification of criminals that is so prevalent these days.  Unfortunately, by falling back on the same ground as his predecessors, he robs this movie of a little bit of the magic and impact that the performers gave to the film.  Bandits is probably the most likeable, believable movie about bank robbers that you may see, not memorable, but still worthy of a bit of attention.

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