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
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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