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Monday, Aug. 30, 2010

Takers

Idris Elba, Matt Dillon among stars in typical heist film

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From The Asphalt Jungle through The Italian Job, the heist movie has a long, honorable history. Putting criminals to work in devilishly complicated schemes to burrow into bank vaults, pierce the perimeters of impenetrable museums and make off with the loot of armored trucks, the heist movie is like a chess game pitting masterminds against the clock. Time is of the essence in a world where electric eyes and silent alarms can always alert the police.

Takers descends from a long line of superior heist pictures. The meticulous Los Angeles bank job at the onset boasts many of the usual tricks—the choreographed assault of masked men in the bank lobby and disabled security cameras—but is shot in such a whirlwind blur that you can barely appreciate the skillful criminality. Finally the gang lures a TV news copter to the bank roof and hijacks it as their getaway vehicle, zipping past the Hollywood sign as they make their escape. The crooks never break a sweat even when blowing up their chopper and speeding off in expensive sports cars. Like much of what follows, the grounding in actual possibility is slippery at best. The computer-enhanced hijinks hijack the real action.

The twist in Takers is that the gang and the cops in pursuit are all sympathetic. The kingpin, Jennings (Idris Elba), has checked his sister into an expensive rehab clinic and plans to move her back to the Caribbean after one last job. His multiethnic crew embodies honor among thieves, even while living the high life of hot tubs on a terrace overlooking the bright lights of Los Angeles. Both of the detectives on their tail, Welles (Matt Dillon) and Hatcher (Jay Hernandez), are devoted family men, albeit Welles pursues Jennings through heavy traffic with his grade-school daughter in the passenger seat. Bad parenting, or just a flat-footed step toward comic relief?

Internal Affairs is pressing down on the L.A.P.D. partners for breaking too many bones in the pursuit of justice. By contrast, the crooks seem eager to get on with their work without spilling blood. But anxiety enters the picture when a former gang member, the cocky, self-assured Ghost (Tip “T.I.” Harris), elbows back in after serving time. He’s got this great plan he worked out in prison with the help of burly Russian mobsters. Jennings just doesn’t know for sure…

Composed from the pseudo-arty ticks beloved by some young filmmakers—the in-your-face close-ups, the restless camera and in-a-hurry editing—Takers introduces characters that could be more likable if they weren’t so thinly drawn. It’s all been done before, but better.