Led By A Great Cast;
Not The Average Heist Film;
Sets Some Lofty Goals.
How do you differentiate yourself as a heist thriller in a world already crowded with them? Conclude the heist portion halfway through, switch up into a survival action-drama and add in some deeper philosophical elements. It works more often than it doesn’t, and serves up a memorable, action-packed two hours that feels a bit unique within its genre.
The script, from Mark Boal (writer of Zero Dark Thirty) and director J.C. Chandor, could have used a bit more characterization in the early pages, though I get why they wanted to keep it somewhat lean. The characters develop more late in the film, once things go decidedly awry, and while those moments are when the film shines, the emotional payoff may have been a bit higher with more to reflect back upon.
The cast is top-notch, and the actors do a great job of making this more than a run-and-gun shoot-em-up (though plenty of bullets are dispensed throughout the two hours). Ben Affleck and Oscar Isaac have the two best roles, and they each do a lot with them. Affleck is subdued and reflective, and while he isn’t the man who sets the story in motion, he is the one responsible for the turn of events that sets the second half in motion. He is the one you root for the hardest, and the one you may assume is doomed from the minute he agrees to the mission. Isaac takes the lead and gives us more action than we typically see from him, but once things go south, he has to balance his anger at the bad guys with his anger at himself for putting his friends and fellow soldiers in danger in the name of money. Charlie Hunnam and Garrett Hedlund are very good as brothers, and Pedro Pascal does well as the character who is possibly the thinnest in the script.
The name of the game is greed, and it changes everything. Stealing from and killing a South American drug lord seems to be a mostly victimless crime, but when our guys get eyes bigger than their stomachs, the scales tip in a hurry. Halfway through the movie, I was surprised to have arrived at a point that would have ended a lot of other films, but then the shift takes it in some really interesting directions. Ultimately, the script isn’t quite as good as it thinks it is, and the movie occasionally tries to punch a bit outside of its weight class. There are some cliches to be sure (especially the ex-soldiers comiung back for one more job angle), but everyone works hard to go in directions you won’t always see coming and the fresh perspective pays off. It is an admirable effort from Chandor and his cast that hits many of its targets and misses a few.