Sunday, September 6, 2015

Sunday Review: Life of Crime

Elmore Leonard would have loved this movie

By Morris Dean

Life of Crime isn't the title of anything Elmore Leonard wrote, but the movie (2013, directed and written for the screen by Daniel Schechter) sure has some Elmore Leonard characteristics: sardonic humor, true-to-life dimwits, bad luck, plans gone awry, cozy inevitability. And Schechter's screenplay seems to embody something Elmore Leonard wrote in his essay, "Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing":
My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
    The movie was released at a Toronto film festival in September 2013, but Elmore Leonard had died the preceding month. That's why I say he "would" have loved the movie.
    In fact, I loved it so much when I watched it this week (on Netflix), I wondered why I'd never even heard of it. If you're not hearing of a film this good, you may be reading too many books – or there may be too many movies. I'm not sure what my excuse it.
    The Internet Movie Database's anonymously written plot is accurate enough, so it'll serve:

Two common criminals get more than they bargained for after kidnapping the wife of a corrupt real-estate developer who shows no interest in paying the $1 million dollar ransom for her safe return.
It already sounds like something by Elmore Leonard, doesn't it?
Ordell & Louis
    The kidnappers are Ordell (played perfectly by Yasiin Bey, who was born Dante Terrell Smith and used to go by the name Mos Def) and Louis (played equally perfectly by John Hawkes).
    The kidnapped wife, Mickey (played well without histrionics by Jennifer Aniston) is so well treated by the criminals, she can easily relate to them as human beings, and the sympathy among them is pure Elmore Leonard. In fact, as the truth of Mickey's relationship with her husband, Frank, emerged, I got the feeling that Mickey and the criminal Louis are getting along well enough to become a romantic couple.
Mickey & Louis

Frank and the other woman
    Mickey's husband, the corrupt real-estate developer Frank, is played by Tim Robbins, whose character's unabashed kinkiness could have led directly to his 2015 role as Secretary of State Walter Larsen in the raunchy TV series The Brink. As in The Brink, everyone else (and especially his girlfriend) seem to have more clues than Frank does, yet Robbins (and Director Schechter) bring him off as utterly and humorously believable. This is a very funny film.

So, individuals you don't expect to get along that well – kidnappers and kidnapped – get along just fine, and the screen portrayal is entertaining and seems eminently natural.
Assistant kidnapper Richard
    And, while the bumpiness of the interplay between the kidnappers and their dimwitted neo-Nazi assistant Richard (played perfectly by Mark Boone Junior) isn't unexpected, its humor is sumptuous. I should have counted how many times I laughed out loud during this movie – it might have taken more than all my fingers.
    I'll word my recommendation in active terms: don't miss it!
    And what do you know? When I got to the credits, I disovered that the film was "For Elmore." Leonard did write the book Life of Crime is based on. It was titled The Switch (1978). How appropriate for the ending!

Copyright © 2015 by Morris Dean

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