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Bandits  Print E-mail
DVD Comedy
Written by Abbie Bernstein   
Tuesday, 02 April 2002



title:
Bandits


studio:
MGM Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: PG-13
starring: Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchett, Troy Garity
release year: 2001
film rating: Three-and-a-Half Stars
sound/picture: Four Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

"Bandits" plays rather like an updated version of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," complete with Etta Place and reimagined primarily as a comedy despite an opening sequence that threatens impending doom. The movie has some terrific jokes, committed performances and a cheerful disposition. The surprise ending isn’t exactly a surprise – an early scene that lays the groundwork also will tip off the finale to anybody paying attention – but getting there is good fun. A much bigger surprise, revealed in the "making-of" featurette, is that this tale of bank robbers with an improbable-seeming technique is actually based (albeit loosely) on fact.

Joe Blake (Bruce Willis) and Terry Collins (Billy Bob Thornton) are in a whole lot of trouble when we first meet them. Their attempt to rob a downtown Los Angeles bank has resulted in a room full of hostages, a SWAT team just outside the door and an argument between the two partners over being betrayed by a woman named Kate (Cate Blanchett). We then flash back to Joe and Terry in prison, where Joe distinguishes himself with flashes of temper and Terry is notable for fretting over imagined illnesses and coming up with the occasional inspired idea. When Joe stages a fatality-free breakout in a cement mixer, Terry finds himself along for the ride. Joe has a dream of retiring to Mexico, and means to finance it by robbing banks. Terry, enjoying the partnership but dreading violence, comes up with an almost-safe way of accomplishing the thefts. The two men will show up the night before the robbery on the doorstep of the bank manager’s home, take him or her hostage, spend the night, then accompany the manager to work in the morning before the bank opens. Soon the "Sleepover Bandits," as they are dubbed by the media, find themselves achieving success and notoriety. Then they meet Kate and the dynamics of the partnership start to alter.

Harley Peyton’s script plays off the internal contradictions of the antiheroes. Joe and Terry are embarked on a genuinely dangerous course and fancy themselves to be dangerous men, yet neither of them is in any way equipped to harm another human being (something some of the bank managers comprehend immediately). The film thrives on incongruity, a bit eccentric without being precious, full of riffs yet with a plot that stays on track. Joe’s temper is menacing at times, but actor Willis and director Barry Levinson know just how far to take the character, allowing him to be credibly tough and intimidating without ever making us feel that he’s potentially hateful.

Levinson also creates some great off-hand visual jokes and gives the film a sometimes breathtaking beauty. A Chapter 25 sequence in which our heroes shoot off tracers in celebration against a pink-and-blue sunset is stunning, and a shot of Blanchett with her flaming red tresses backlit and blowing in the wind against the night sky is utterly magical.

The 5.1 sound is generally excellent, with a strong center channel for dialogue and lots of scene-setting directional effects throughout, starting right in Chapter 1, as a helicopter moves through mains and rears, achieving a subtlety of presence as it recedes so realistic that for awhile, it sounds as if it’s hovering outside the listening environment rather than in the speaker system. Chapter 3 has a very realistic selection of gunshots that each sound different depending on what they’re hitting (windshield, bumper, hood, headlight), while moving appropriately according to screen direction. There’s also a great rear to front vehicular sound as onscreen, the truck drives away from us. Chapter 12 introduces the incandescent Blanchett as Kate lip-synchs and dances her way around a kitchen to Bonnie Tyler’s "Holding Out for a Hero" – eat your heart out, "Footloose." In Chapter 13, as Kate actually sings along with "Total Eclipse of the Heart" coming from her car radio, there is an authentic-sounding distinction between the radio music and the "live" voice of the character. Chapter 18 makes a similarly lifelike distinction as characters are alternately heard onscreen and over a bank window intercom system. Chapter 20 has an entertainingly-staged road incident, with enveloping directional effects as three vehicles swerve this way and that. Chapter 22 has amusing, effective use of U2’s "Beautiful Day" as one character cruises a pretty girl. Chapter 30 has a vivid, full-bodied shotgun blast – it sounds and feels like a door slam – more directional helicopter effects and gunshots, without compromising the solidity of the dialogue track. About the only possible complaint to be made is that an explosion that extends from Chapter 31 through 32 looks a lot larger than it sounds.

Extras include the aforementioned "making-of" featurette, a separate featurette on a love scene (with discussion about song licensing rights that may be of passing interest to those with an interest in the logistics of use of music in movies), some deleted scenes and an alternate ending that’s very similar to the actual ending, though Blanchett’s commentary is charming.

"Bandits" has a couple of drawbacks. One of the key relationships, while comically effective, isn’t really convincing – we’re told that a character is thoughtful and tender, when self-centered and paranoid seems a more apt description. It’s not disastrous, but it becomes noticeable after awhile. On the other hand, Blanchett’s Kate is a marvelous female lead, a rare instance where a free-spirited eccentric heroine comes off as a life force instead of someone in need of sedatives.

Mainly, "Bandits" is inventive and engagingly quirky, with a fair amount of laugh-out-loud humor. It is certainly worth seeing.


more details
sound format:
English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround; French Dolby Digital Stereo Surround; Spanish Dolby Digital Stereo Surround; Portuguese Dolby Digital Stereo Surround
aspect ratio(s):
2.35:1 (Widescreen), 1.85:1 (Full-Screen)
special features: Making-Of Featurette; Deleted Scenes; "Creating Scene 71" Featurette; Alternate Ending with Cate Blanchett Commentary; Theatrical Trailer; Scene Selection; English, French, Spanish and Portuguese Subtitles; English Closed-Captioning
comments: email us here...
   
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba








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