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BANDITS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchett
Director: Barry Levinson
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French, Spanish, & Portuguese Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1, Standard 1.33:1
Studio: MGM
Features: See Review
Length: 123 Minutes
Release Date: April 2, 2002

“You really think you’re gonna fool anybody in that getup? I mean, you look like Neil Young from that…what was that album? ‘After the Horses’ or…”

“It was ‘After the Gold Rush’, and that’s not the one. It’s the one where he’s leaning against a tree in the snow, or whatever. That’s what I was actually going for.”

Film ***1/2

Barry Levinson is a rare kind of directing talent. He has pretty much captured every genre out there from suspense (Disclosure) to comedy (Wag the Dog) to sci-fi (Sphere) to drama (Sleepers). For a director who’s covered a lot of ground, Bandits is quite an accomplishment. It’s a comedy at heart, and a very funny, but Levinson is able to blend in elements of a road movie, some romance, slight moments of suspense and action, and crime. One would think that a movie like that would tend to meander, but Bandits doesn’t do such for a second. It is consistently witty, hysterically funny, edge-of-your seat entertainment that also boasts three memorable performances from its stars.

The movie stars Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton as Joe Blake and Terry Collins, a pair of bank robbers known to the nation as The Sleepover Bandits. The story is told mostly in flashback, and periodically cuts back to the present, which involves their latest bank robbery, which isn’t going well at all as the authorities have the bank building surrounded. During the robbery, Blake and Collins are at each other’s throat quibbling about all the mistakes that were made when leading up to their current position.

The two first met each other in prison, and became prison escapees when Joe improvised an attempt at hijacking a truck. Once having successfully eluded prison, they find that their primary problem is basically not having any money on them. Joe has a dream, which is to make it down to Acapulco to open his own nightclub to sell drinks to tourists; something for which he will need a lot of money. Terry, believing himself to be the “brains” of the pair, comes up with a plan to execute the robbery in the right way. They rob the bank in the morning through kidnapping the bank manager and staying over at his house the night before, and accompanying him right at opening time.

Joe and Terry seem to be hitting a successful streak, along with Joe’s pea-brained cousin Harvey (Troy Garity) serving as their getaway driver, a job he doesn’t mind bragging about. Their streak takes a detour when Terry is struck by a car driven by Kate (Cate Blanchett), a wildly out of control housewife who becomes less than a distraction than the bandits expect her to be. As it turns out, she is very willing to surrender herself as a hostage to the two, pretty much because it makes as a more than great diversion from her depressing married life. Soon enough, she is elevated to their partner in crime. It gets complicated along the way, as she begins a love affair, not just with Joe, but with Terry, as well.

Bandits succeeds on the strength of the performances, which are believable and truly funny. For an actor who continues to surprise at broadening his range, Bruce Willis is right on the mark as Joe, who is high on instinct, but at times a little low on the brains. Billy Bob Thornton, however, is the one who nearly steals the show with his amazingly funny tour de force as Terry, who has the brains, but who’s only flaw is numerous phobias, some of which will leave you howling. Then there’s Cate Blanchett, a strong actress, and a drop dead beauty, who proves in Bandits that she has a nice knack for comedy in the wake of her numerous roles in serious dramas.

Levinson’s sharp directing and genius cinematographer Dante Spinotti (Heat, L.A. Confidential) craft a memorable look that enhances the fun even more. Bandits was one of best entertaining kicks I got last year, and it’s a memorable joy ride of a flick that holds up to repeated viewing.

BONUS TRIVIA: Bruce Willis’ daughter is seen in the movie as the little girl of the family who lets out a monstrous belch at the dinner table.

Video ***1/2

This is a much decent looking disc from MGM. The anamorphic picture is nicely rendered, which beautifully captures the sharp look given by its director and cinematographer. Colors are nicely captured, rendering vibrant resolutions. The only flaw is a couple of instances of grain in just a scene or two, but they’re very quick and they don’t take away the quality from the overall presentation.

Audio ***1/2

MGM issues a more than impressive use of a 5.1 audio mix for a movie that is mostly heavy on dialogue. The numerous bank robbery sequences include slight use of gunfire and a few explosions, all of which are heard in knockout form. Channels do a good job of pick up on both dialogue and music numbers. All in all, this is a good subtle movie that will result in a much better audio delivery than you will probably expect.

Features ***1/2

MGM offers their usual Special Edition quality with this release, which includes two featurettes, a making of documentary titled “Inside Bandits”, and “Creating Scene 71”; a look at an improvised moment by Bruce Willis and Cate Blanchett. Also included are several deleted scenes, an alternate ending with optional commentary by Cate Blanchett, a soundtrack spot, and trailers for this movie and the other MGM releases Windtalkers, Hart’s War, and the Rocky 25th Anniversary Special Edition.

Summary:

Bandits is a killer steal of a good movie. Credit to a wonderful line up of talent, with director Barry Levinson fashioning a good clean caper with wonderful performances from culprits Willis, Thornton and Blanchett.