Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 05, 2009 5:10 pm 
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No nonsense

Nimród Antal's heist-gone-wrong flick isn't exactly jolly fun, but its authentic pleasure comes in how cleanly and simply it delivers its 88 minutes of tight hardcore action. This is the Hungarian-trained but L.A.-born director's second Hollywood movie; his deliciously dark, fantastic debut Kontroll was shot entirely in the Budapest subway. Antal clearly knows how to get down and dirty and he maintains the rough professionalism of a good B-picture throughout. Wasting no time on elaborate character development, contrived suspense, or preaching, he just churns up a quick head of nasty intensity replete with macho spleen.

If you want to, you can see this movie as a working class Great Recession heist. Mastermind Mike Cochrone (Matt Dillon) appeals to financial desperation to pull in the robbery team's most innocent member. He's Ty (Columbus Short), a young black man just back from Iraq with a Silver Star he takes no great pride in, who's inherited a talented but wayward kid brother Jimmy (Andre Kinney) and a rundown house from his recently deceased parents, and the bank threatens foreclosure. With no fuss about it, this is another movie about the war coming back home to a world that offers no rewards. All Ty's been able to do is land this rookie spot at Eagle Security, a company that drives around truckloads of cash from bank to bank.

Forget movies about elaborate capers ending in i like Rififi or Topkapi. There's none of the fun of clever planning and almost-perfect execution. First-timer James V. Simpson's script dives into the job pretty fast without spelling out the whole plan to us, and the bulk of the time is spent trying to rescue a scheme that went wrong as soon as it got going. This is Reservoir Dog country, except that the focus is on the action rather than the aftermath; in fact cinematographer Andrzej Sekula worked on Dogs and Pulp Fiction.

There's a kind of charismatic has-been quality about the cast itself, except for newcomer Short, who brings the movie its youth and energy. Dillon, Fishbourne, and Reno are variously aging journeymen who've seen better days, and leading-man handsome Skeet Ulrich has never had a big starring role except in the TV series "Jericho." Fred Ward is a great character actor, but when has he ever had a year as good as 1990, when he starred in both Henry and June and Miami Blues? Ward has his own little black noir cloud over his head.

It's all laid out for us at the outset when the security team has a training exercise in which a mock hijacking enroute is staged. We don't know for sure at first if it's real or fake when a black panel truck follows, blocks the armored vehicle, and what looks like a plastic bomb is slapped onto the back door. Mike explains to Ty that shortly they'll fake just such an event, only "there will be no bad guys" -- not even play-acting ones: they'll just hide the cash, and claim it was stolen from them.

In this manly flick it's naturally enough in the company locker room that we meet Mike's pals and soon-to-be parthers-in-crime, who include the cool-headed Quinn (Jean Reno, whose French accent gives him a slow drawl), the hotheaded Baines (Lawrence Fishbourne, blowsy and mean ), the strange, religious Palmer (Amaury Nolasco), and a quiet guy (watch out for them) called Dobbs (Skeet Ulrich). The company boss Duncan Ashcroft is the aforementioned Fred Ward. Ashcroft, whose gung-ho is on auto-pilot, is the main person they need to keep out of the know. Forty-two million dollars are going to be moved from here to there in two trucks these guys will be driving.

When the ongoing bank debt and the boy's misbehavior bring Ty the threat of surrendering his kid brother to foster care, it's the last straw that makes him reluctantly go along on the delivery. Mike promised him nobody will get hurt. It's not Mike's last untrustworthy promise. When they wind up nervously detouring the money-laden trucks to a big empty warehouse a la Reservoir Dogs and there turns out to be a witness, of course that first promise can't be kept, and from then on there's big trouble. Part of Antal's skill is in how exciting it all is despite rarely leaving the one location. Six-plus men, a cavernous warehouse, and two trucks full of money are more than you need. Human life really means something here; a single gunshot wound is a terrible thing. Maybe the most realistic casting -- done for accuracy rather than to get funding or draw in an audience -- is the very believable Milo Ventimiglia as Eckehart, a policeman in a patrol car who comes nearby for some burgers (at a stand that looks like the Budapest subway on a bad day) and sniffs foul play.

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