I enjoy little crime capers like this with an all-star cast, especially when the ‘heroes’ are really villains when it comes down to it. This was done especially well in films like Reservoir Dogs and for a more modern-day example: The Town.
The plot is a little long so bear with me. A group of five men made up of criminals and corrupt cops (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus and Clifton Collins Jr.) have no problem doing several extremely complicated heists around town despite one of them (Ejiofor) being constantly blackmailed by the Russian mafia as they have possession of his young son. They finally are able to do their final heist but in order to do so they will need a major distraction so that the police do not stop the act. Their solution? Kill a police officer, thus causing a Code 999 called in by one of the corrupt cops to distract everyone on the force while the robbery goes ahead as planned. The only problem is that the cop in question (Casey Affleck) has formed a sort-of bond with Mackie and thus it may not be as simple as right and wrong or black and white.
Going into this film, I expected a fun vibe akin to those caper movies like Ocean’s Eleven or something similar. Well, what I got instead was a pretty twisted and gritty crime/thriller that doesn’t hold back on the violence or subject matter whatsoever. Much of the film is cast in shadow and red light thus creating a great visual atmosphere for these characters to interact with each other. The script is pretty good too ith some well-written dialogue that doesn’t feel too cliche or predictable and fits in well with these types of movies. The pace is pretty tight too with nothing feeling rushed or slow, which is a good thing considering this movie runs just under two hours. Admittedly, there are a couple of moments that I would have maybe trimmed for timing reasons but nothing that really did anything to majorly hinder the film.
The acting is pretty decent across the board. Chiwetel Ejiofor does quite good as the title (?) character and the one that we mostly sympathize with due to the situation he is in regarding his son and the mafia. Anthony Mackie is also good as the partner of Affleck’s character and he portrays conflicting emotions in a genuine way. Aaron Paul is fairly non-descript but does fine for himself while Norman Reedus is essentially here in an extended cameo. Clifton Collins Jr. stands out as being a pretty slimy but suave corrupt cop. On the side of the police, Casey Affleck is adequate here and Woody Harrelson fares better but this is not the best performance from either of these talented actors. Kate Winslet almost steals the show with her underplayed portrayal of the Russian mafia leader. Most other actors would play this part over-the-top but Winslet is such a great actress that she can take a fairly bland antagonist on paper like this and turn it into a compelling character just with her usual great nuanced acting. As you can see, the cast is quite stacked but there’s not enough time to really allow all of them to shine.
The big flaw in this film (and apparently a lot of people are saying this) is the last 15-20 minutes of the film. For most of the movie, it is exciting, fast-paced and unpredictable but the whole thing grinds to a halt in the last little bit in the film and ends in a mostly-unsatisfactory way. Certain characters don’t reach a very suitable conclusion and while I’m all for trying something new, this just didn’t really work with this type of film. It’s rather hard to describe without giving it away as you can plainly see.
Overall, it’s an entertaining film with flaws but one that’s sure to entertain for the majority of its running time.
* (Brutal; the worst rating)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)