Ensemble movies always tantalize as a buffet attraction, but all too often many of them are victims of their own components. I picture a scene of egos and the curators of said egos (agents) hedging, jostling and even threatening for position in an upcoming movie attraction. Recall the billing war between Steve McQueen and Paul Newman for The Towering Inferno. One, the other or both wanted superior positioning and timing for the emergence of their names in the intro credits, in the end, they had to carefully introduce both at the same time. So anyway, here’s another ensemble that once again both frustrates and intrigues. This movie movie is disposable, that is to say, I’d cautiously recommend it for a one time viewing with most having no use for a second run.
The cast, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Clifton Collins Jr. and Casey Affleck, make up a posse of ex servicemen now working the system as corrupt cops. On what seems like an occasion, the more straight laced Woody Harrelson shows up as an investigator snooping around suspect activities and coincidences that he dismisses as too miraculous to accept. Our team is tight, but they find themselves enveloped in a quagmire of blackmail and threats, as highly connected Jewish gangsters force them to pull off a heist, or two. You get a few of those in this movie, although you start to wonder how far the naivety of the ‘heroes’ can extend, as one instance of strong arming leads to another.
The film has everything going for it but a well flowing story. It’s filled with half baked sub plots that really don’t go anywhere, ‘resolved’ at the end with one of those script doctoring Frankenstein stitch jobs. I have to wonder how many drafts this movie has gone through and if the bloated cast might have contributed to that. Don’t forget, there are a lot of actors in this movie that can command a good position in a movie at this point in their careers, but there were even more considered. Christoph Waltz, Shia LeBeouf, Charlie Hunnam and Cate Blanchett all passed in and out of the project. The story then feels unsatisfactory, too much going on yet nothing there to bind it all together. No coherence.
Which is a pity. The movie has atmosphere to spare and as you’d expect, the actors deliver. It has a realism that is hard to nail, the type that heavyweights like Michael Mann and David Chase can cook up, where others like Kurt Sutter fail laughably. But again, it’s near criminal to have Woody Harrelson show up in a movie with almost zero character development. And Norman Reedus might as well have been a ‘Walker’, completely wasted too.
Oh, I will also say that the movie has some decent action. The first heist is decent and the violent foot chase in the middle of the movie is quite thrilling. But you know, I can’t say if I’ll return to this movie again, maybe after a while on Blu-Ray.