by HELEN GEIB
Takers shows that writer-director John Luessenhop and some or all of his three co-writers are in thrall to their filmmaking influences. Additionally, some of those influences are incompatible.
Those in the audience who have seen Heat will experience a strong feeling of deja vu. Takers is set in Los Angeles. The film opens with a crime in progress. The criminals are a gang of professional bank robbers. Their leader is played by Idris Elba, his second in command by Paul Walker, and the other members by Michael Ealy, Hayden Christensen, and Chris Brown. Matt Dillon plays the detective hot on their trail and determined to bring them down before they can get away with the spoils from their next big job (heist plan courtesy of The Italian Job). Jay Hernandez plays his partner. The worst performance in the film, hands-down, is by rapper Tip “T.I.” Harris as the inadequately motivated villain.
The final confrontation between Elba and Dillon’s characters occurs at the airport. In a conscious break with the source material, they have a single near meeting- instead of the expected actual meeting- around the mid-point. The airport scene may also be referred to as the Good, the Bad and the Ugly scene; the invited comparison is not favorable to the new film.
The detective partners are cut from the standard cop drama mold familiar from a zillion movies and TV shows. The characterization is reasonably realistic and Dillon and Hernandez deliver in their performances. Until the script dies completely in the third act, their scenes together work. Accordingly, the cop side of the movie (again, before the dismal third act) are one of the film’s good points.
The robbers are Ocean’s Eleven rejects. They wear sharp suits, hang out at one member’s classy nightspot, trade (flatly written) repartee, and Christensen’s character’s distinguishing feature is a ‘sixties cool-inspired porkpie hat.
This characterization is particularly problematic in the third act’s John Woo-style “million bullets punctuated by sacrificial death” scene. Luessenhop et al. have evidently watched a Hong Kong heroic bloodshed movie or two, but the evidence at hand indicates they didn’t appreciate the substance underlying and expressed by the style.
It is worth noting in this connection that the filmmakers appear to be laboring under the misapprehension that the audience cares whether the individual members of the gang live or die. For one thing, they’re scum. For another, and much more significant to the issue, meaningful characterization is abundantly lacking. None of them come alive as characters before they’re killed.
Two of the gang go out in a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid blaze of glory. This part also amply demonstrates the script’s pervasive third-act stupidity. One, they had only to run out the back door instead, and two, by all demands of plausibility and coherence they should have been talking about getting away to take revenge on the villain instead of indulging in a meaningless grand gesture death scene.
While the plot channels Michael Mann’s Heat, the way the city is filmed is strongly reminiscent of his Collateral. This is a very good choice of model for a low-budget crime thriller set in LA, and the “look” of Takers is another of its good points.
The third and most noteworthy good point is the splendid free-running sequence. It’s all the more effective because the filmmakers keep it grounded. The cop partners have been chasing one of the robbers for a few minutes when it sneaks up on the audience’s notice that, hey, this is free-running! The moves aren’t overly flashy; the choreography is within the ability of an especially athletic criminal desperate to escape capture. The locations are ordinary: a congested city street; an office building. The camera cuts occasionally to the runner’s pursuers as they stumble against the cars that have screeched to a halt in his wake, or look around helplessly after he escapes seemingly certain capture with a particularly cool move.
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American Gangster, a good cop vs. criminal movie.