The Good: Good acting, Funny, Interesting character (Terry Collins)
The Bad: Other characters are dull, Plot is not terribly original
The Basics: A fun film, Bandits has a group of bank robbers test a new technique and become celebrities and fugitives all at once.
It seems lately that I've been watching a number of films with people on the run (Novocain) or Bruce Willis (12 Monkeys) or both (The Whole Nine Yards). What can I say? I've been watching whatever I can get my hands on.
Bandits is the story of three men who have an innovative style of robbing banks. Easy-to-anger Joe Blake and hypochondriac Terry Collins escape from prison together with the idea of opening up a nightclub in Mexico together. They enlist Joe's cousin Harvey to be the getaway driver for them in their robberies. Their tactic is smart; rather than breaking into the banks, the pair spends the night with the bank managers homes, hold them hostage for a night and take the bank out in the morning with fewer witnesses. Things are going find for the thieves until Terry is captured by Kate, a lonely housewife who decides to join the gang. This raises the pair to the level of celebrity and leads them to a final heist that appears fatal.
The problem with the film is that the characters are not nearly as interesting as the technique. Joe is pretty much your standard criminal and he doesn't have much depth. He's a prankster, but more than that, he's an angry man who it is fairly easy to see how he arrived in prison. Kate, similarly, is a pretty standard housewife character who wants an adventure. Her only redeeming character trait is more of a plot point; she is unable to decide which of the bandits she prefers as a partner. That works, but it is presented in a way that feels more like a plot technique than a character trait.
This leaves Terry. Terry is a wonderful character. He is quirky and believes himself the victim of any disease he learns of. This makes for a character that is interesting and very fun to watch. He is just plain weird and his bits in the film are the funniest parts of the movie.
The film fails on the merits of its plot. In the opening lines of the film, we learn that the "sleepover bandits" are dead, killed in a shootout in a bank robbery. The ending, then, comes only as a surprise to people who are completely asleep. That is, the careful viewer evaluates the people who say certain things against what they know to be true by what the characters do. So, when we see how intelligent and paranoid Terry is, it becomes unlikely to us that he would die in a hail of bullets as television host Darren Head would have us believe. In fact, everything in the plot in the latter two thirds of the film, we know of in the first fifteen minutes. Then, it's just a matter of watching for it until it happens.
On the plus side, the acting works well. Bruce Willis creates a character very different from other characters with similar characterization, like Jimmy Tudeski in The Whole Nine Yards. This works to the film's benefit and it reinforces the idea that Bruce Willis is a truly great actor.
Cate Blanchette does fine as Kate Wheeler, but she does not seem to add anything to the very stale role. I was a bit disappointed with her performance.
Billy Bob Thornton, on the other hand, infuses Terry with so much of his genius and he makes the film worth sitting through. Thornton has an ability to move his body and facial expressions that are unparalleled in this film. He is the strength of Bandits making his character a worthy film.
The narrative technique of Bandits is worth mentioning as well. Events do not necessarily occur in chronological order and that keeps the pace of the film up, making the movie move faster.
Funny and surprisingly non-violent for a film about robbery, Bandits is a chance to see Billy Bob Thornton create one of the weirdest characters ever in a well-directed film with a little something for anyone in the mood to root for good bad guys.
For other works by Barry Levinson, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Homicide: The Movie
Homicide: Life On The Street
For other film reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the movies I have reviewed!
© 2012, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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