Phil on Film Index

Monday, September 27, 2010

Review - Takers

The title Takers refers to the team of high-tech thieves at the centre of John Luessenhop's film, but it could just as easily refer to the filmmakers themselves. After all, every single aspect of the film has been taken from some crime movie that has gone before, with the work of Michael Mann being the most obvious source of inspiration. I was astonished when saw the credit that listed four screenwriters on this project, as it's hard to see how it could require four different people to fill a single script with so much clichéd dialogue and so many thunderingly obvious twists. But the film's most blatant act of thievery lies in its climactic heist, which completely rips off F. Gary Gray's 2003 remake of The Italian Job (there's nothing like stealing from the best, eh guys?). One of the characters even acknowledges the debt, but an honest thief is no less of a thief.

So who are these crooks? Well, the leader of the pack is Gordon (Idris Elba) and he has assembled a crack team that consists of Paul Walker (whose role is to stand around staring at things), Hayden Christensen (er...the designated hat-wearer and piano-player), and Chris Brown and Michael Ealy (playing brothers). Life is good for the gang, with every heist going of like clockwork and the police chasing shadows, and they are smart enough to leave a year between jobs, although that policy changes abruptly when Ghost (rapper and producer TI) re-appears on the scene. A former member of the crew, Ghost has just been released from jail, having been shot and left behind during a previous robbery, and he has a tempting offer for the Takers, an armoured car job that could pay off big time, but can he be trusted? Is he setting his former teammates up for a fall? And do they really need to take this risk with dedicated cops Matt Dillon and Jay Hernandez closing on their backs?

Of course, they take the chance, and throughout Takers, you are unlikely to be surprised by any of the plot developments. It's pretty easy to pinpoint early on which characters will be going out in a blaze of glory and which ones will be sticking around for a final showdown, and that sense of predictability drains it of tension. Luessenhop tries to juice it up with a slick visual style, but the film's camerawork is hectic to little effect, and some of his directorial choices – such as the attempt to stage a balletic, John Woo-style shootout – fall hilariously wide of the mark. Similarly, a chase involving Chris Brown late on is the first time Luessenhop injects a bit of life into his film, but he eventually loses his grip on the sequence and lets it run too long, with some poor editing gradually sucking the vitality out of it.

There's not much vitality in the performances either. Elba has considerable presence and TI has an entertainingly cocksure swagger, but the actors have nothing to work with (quite why Zoe Saldana accepted this pitiful role is beyond me). Matt Dillon's character is just one cliché after another (the non-nonsense, relentless cop who has destroyed his marriage and is neglecting his daughter in pursuit of his prey), and as hard as this talented actor works, he can't imbue the part with any sense of real life. But none of that ultimately seems to matter to Luessenhop. He doesn't seem to be particularly interested in any of his characters as people, and he is far more excited by the trappings of their lifestyle. Takers spends so much of its time fetishising the rewards reaped by the career criminal, with the camera endlessly admiring the fast cars, the gold, the suits, the cigars and the piles of money. This is a film obsessed with ostentatious displays of wealth, but all of that is meaningless when it is creatively bankrupt.