Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

Toronto Review: Lightweight 'Jackie Brown' Prequel 'Life of Crime' Features Enjoyable Turns By Mos Def, John Hawkes, Jennifer Aniston

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire September 13, 2013 at 11:34AM

Writer-director Daniel Schecter's first-two features, "Goodbye Baby' and "Supporting Characters," were ultra-low budget character studies about ordinary young people struggling through their private and professional lives with self-deprecating wit.
1
'Life of Crime'
'Life of Crime'

Writer-director Daniel Schecter's first two features, "Goodbye Baby' and "Supporting Characters," were ultra-low-budget character studies about ordinary young people struggling through their private and professional lives with self-deprecating wit. While “Life of Crime,” Schecter’s stylishly fun and star-heavy adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel “The Switch,” has little in common with those earlier works, it shares their sense of play.

More in tune with the original material than Quentin Tarantino’s "Jackie Brown," to which it’s technically a prequel, "Life of Crime" involves money-hungry kidnappers, a racist gun nut and mean-spirited philanderers, but moves along with the sleek cheeriness of a romantic comedy. Making lunatics and desperation into a breeze, Schecter does justice to his source. 

None of that, however, makes “Life of Crime” particularly memorable. Instead, it's a showcase of proficient storytelling that's eager to entertain. Typical of Leonard’s work, "Life of Crime" involves smooth-talking criminals who bring a comical humanity to their work. It doesn't take long to establish the basic premise: Set in Detroit in the late 1970s, the story involves the plight of crooked real estate developer Frank Dawson (Tim Robbins), whose clueless wife Mickey (Jennifer Aniston) gets kidnapped by scheming thugs Ordell (Mos Def) and Louis (John Hawkes) in a feeble bit to extort $1 million dollars from the man while he's in Florida. 

But Frank, actually on vacation with his paramour Melanie (Isla Fisher) and intending to divorce his wife, sees a greater opportunity to use the situation to get around alimony payments. The clash between domestic and criminal agendas establishes an enjoyably off-kilter series of showdowns that go down with ease, as Schecter fills each scene with a combination of snarky characters and scowls of frustration. The only real peril comes from the character of Richard (Mark Boone Jr.), the racist neo-Nazi goon whose home the kidnappers use to detain Mickey. But even his lunatic antics play like a prolonged joke.

Most of the movie centers on the burgeoning relationship between Mickey and the ultimately good-natured military vet Louis as a predictable strain of Stockholm Syndrome bleeds into their relationship. Together, Aniston and Hawkes wouldn’t be out of place in a Capra film, but just when their chemistry borders on mushiness, the plot thickens: Ordell, the shrewd strategist played as an older man by Samuel L. Jackson in "Jackie Brown," realizes that they haven't considered the value of Frank's other woman in their plan and decides to track her down. 

In theory, that decision could lead to a pile up of circumstances that layer one new piece of plot information on top of another. However, "Life of Crime" never loses its lightweight feel. Its best moments are amusing one: The kidnappers' ongoing attempt to reach Frank by phone, instead reaching his girlfriend and running into a wall, wouldn’t seem out of place in a comedy sketch, and Mickey's sole attempt to escape has a similarly slapstick dimension. 

Though these moments fit the energetic atmosphere, they also dominate with a constant goofiness that means there's no real sense of danger to the proceedings and the characters' problems only run surface deep. "Life of Crime" downplays their anarchic sensibilities for a shrug of plot developments. 

Still, the cast strengthens the material with a noticeable investment in its vivacious qualities. Aniston tops any of her recent performances with a spirited turn that harkens back to her neurotic days on “Friends,” while Mos Def makes for a particularly breezy presence with his constant wry grin. Robbins, who looks like he’s aged 30 years and gained 40-odd pounds, forms an amusingly slimy antagonist, while Will Forte -- as the naive man who hopes to seduce Aniston’s character but won’t lift a finger when he finds out she’s kidnapped -- continues to expand his range with a hilariously conflicted role. Schecter surrounds their irreverent situations with pervasive jolliness: an exuberant score by The Newton Brothers is filled with whistling interludes and upbeat tempos complimented by cinematographer Eric Alan Edwards’ colorful, pulp-ready imagery. 

Viewed in terms of these achievements, "Life of Crime" feels like a familiar trip worth enduring once more. It's an appropriate ode to the appeal of Leonard's work in the immediate aftermath of his death earlier this year. The movie ends with the implication that the plot has only just begun, implying that even if Leonard himself is gone, his universe of conniving delinquents will continue to thrive indefinitely. 

Criticwire grade: B

HOW WILL IT PLAY? The closing night selection for the Toronto International Film Festival, “Life of Crime” is expected to be picked up by Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate, which should be able to drum up solid box office on opening weekend due to the appeal of the genre, its diverse set of stars and interest in Leonard’s work.

This article is related to: Reviews, Daniel Schecter, Toronto International Film Festival, Life of Crime, John Hawkes, Jennifer Aniston, Mos Def, Tim Robbins, Elmore Leonard






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More