Quite how it is possible to make a heist thriller this sluggish and leaden, when it has such an appealing cast of actors and a strong visual style, is a genuinely tantalising question. John Luessenhop, who makes his first major cinematic contribution with Takers, evidently has aspirations to be the next Michael Mann, but when he borrows so greedily from the crime thriller shopping list, he hasn’t got a chance. Not even a good effort from Matt Dillon – who seems to play the hard-done-by cop/security guard for the umpteenth time here – can provide this stodgy outing with the caffeine kick it is sorely in need of.
Takers was released this week on Blu-ray, here’s our review.
The premise is evidently very simple; a group of bank robbers take something of a perverse enjoyment in staging elaborate, ridiculous bank robberies, and when a recently paroled former team-mate returns to offer them one final, huge payday, they just can’t resist. The team is led by the smooth Brit Gordon Cozier (Idris Elba), and also consists of John (Paul Walker), A.J. (Hayden Christensen), Jake (Michael Ealy) and his brother Jesse (Chris Brown). However, a brutally dedicated cop, Jack Welles (Dillon), along with his partner, Eddie Hatcher (Jay Hernanez), is determined to put a stop to their extravagant thrills.
One thing worth mentioning about Takers is that it is a very good-looking film, perhaps one of the best looking bad films in recent memory. Luessenhop stages the action in vibrant colours, and shoots it with a propulsive urgency that is in fact almost too much; the whizzes and bangs hit hard, yet the editing is so frantic during the film’s chase scenes, combined with plenty of “shaky cam” shooting, that these moments very nearly result in an information overload. It is also right to mention that no film with a cast this rock-solid – if only to mention Dillon and the brilliant Idris Elba, who rather oddly returns to his native British accent here – should be quite so soporific in its execution.
It would be kind to call Takers an exercise in pure genre cinema, because that would presuppose that it takes the genre schematic and then works its own groove into it. Instead, Takers steals a set-piece almost verbatim from the mediocre 2003 The Italian Job remake (in which traffic lights are manipulated, before the road is collapsed by plastic explosives in order to steal an armoured car), mixes in several uneasy glimpses of the cops’ and robbers’ personal lives (which play off like poor iterations of Al Pacino’s arc in Heat), and arrives at a slightly more exciting make-or-break third act in which most of the cast are summarily killed, yet the aforementioned character development is so weak that there is little impetus for the viewer to care.
With some tweaking in the editing and writing, Takers could easily have worked as a spoof of the heist thriller film rather than the lazy, cynical genre effort that it is. Despite its generally good direction, there are some laughably clichéd shots; one of the group walking towards the camera in slow motion as a helicopter explodes behind them is head-shakingly rote, and there is not one, not two, but three characters who die sacrificial, slow-motion deaths accompanied by absurdly histrionic music. The phrase “they’re not even trying” has rarely been more apt, for no film with such a duff script should be allowed such a solid director at its helm.
Unfortunately, any attempt to inject a little humanism into things also falls flat. Elba’s Gordon has the burden of a crack-addled sister, while Dillon’s Jack is a workaholic who fails to connect with his daughter, Hernandez’s Eddie has money troubles and a family to feed, and there is a potential love triangle involving Zoe Saldana’s Rachel character. Each thread is executed with a scarce regard for character depth, more convincingly churned out as a mechanised means to generate a scrap of sympathy for the criminals, when in fact it feels more like padding to give the illusion of money well spent. Were these scenes shortened or even omitted entirely, one might view the whole experience a little more positively. These scenes resolutely fail because, when it comes to the film’s slaughter-packed final act, one feels nothing but apathy for these characters; neither hatred for them nor reserved sympathy, and that is worse.
Unforgivably clichéd and surprisingly boring, this well-shot heist thriller falters under its numerous derivations from better films, as well as a narrative padded out with the sketchy personal stories of its poorly developed characters. Though the actors try their best – Matt Dillon especially – there’s little exciting or original here. If he can find a less snoozy script next time, though, Luessenhop might be a director to watch.
How much you’ll enjoy the transfer depends on your feelings about digital photography; long scenes shot in this format don’t tend to fare well in HD, and here the murkiness and grain is distractingly visible, especially during the night time scenes. While it seems an intended move in order to ape Michael Mann’s noirish diigital escapades, it is somewhat at odds with how slick a production it otherwise is. However, the climactic shoot-out – which mixes film with digital – is the sure high-def highlight.
Aurally, the surplus of beefy gunfire and car smashes will give your home cinema system a workout, and the soundtrack is aptly bassy.
“Executing the Heist – The Making Of” – a 10-minute bout of star-aggrandisement, and given that it comes off as trying to sell the film to you, it’s sort of preaching to the converted.
“Take Action!” – better is this equally brief look at the surprising technical complexity of several of the film’s pivotal action scenes. Matte effects are superbly convincing, and some raw set footage shows star Chris Brown to be a fantastic athlete.
“‘Yeah I Know (Takers)’ by T.I. – Music Promo” – comes across as a shameless vanity play for the film’s star and Executive Producer, T.I., but the tune is catchy enough even if you’ll probably never watch it again.
Filmmaker and Cast Commentary (with director John Lussenhop, producers Will Packer and Jason Geter, and Tip “T.I.” Harris) – though it offers very few insights into the filmmaking process, it demonstrates that nobody took the film too seriously, and they probably had a lot of fun making the film if nothing else.
Takers is out now on Blu-ray.