Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Thieves Like Us. C+
Robert Altman gets Thieves Like Us off to a terrific start with a tracking shot of the southern country side showing a prison vehicle and then moving towards two bank robbers canoeing onto land, chatting away before the camera pans to an approaching car in the distance. It's a classic Altman shot that foretells the fate of the bank robbers by first showing the prison vehicle, and more importantly establishes by showing three forms of transportation a sense of movement that defines the lives of the central characters. Unfortunately, that shot, and a pretty great first fifteen minutes, are put to waste by what is afterwards a pretty mediocre movie. Yet, in spite of its shortcomings, this seems to be exactly the film Altman wanted to make. This is what he's up to: a young criminal, played by Keith Carradine, becomes conflicted when he must decide between loving a woman (played by Shelley Duvall) or staying with his fellow bank robbers. If the plot sounds familiar, it's because this is adapted by the novel of the same name, which had previously produced the great Nicholas Ray debut They Live by Night. In telling the story, Altman strips the bank robbing life of any type of glory, presenting it as a boring pursuit in life that consists mostly of sitting around in relatives' houses and stressing out when arrest warrants are printed in the papers. Altman is barely even interested in the actual robbing of the banks. He shoots one robbery and keeps his camera placed high, at a distance, presenting the crime without any of the sizzle often associated with heists and hold-ups. So you might say Altman is doing what has been done with a lot of Westerns, namely destroying to myth of the genre and presenting the hard truth. But I think Altman's intentions are something else, namely he wants to show bank robbing as boring profession and bank robbers as dull, money-grubbing people. And the result is, not surprisingly, a boring movie, such that when the end arrives, we feel absolutely nothing emotionally. In theory, I find Altman's motives pretty fascinating, yet when it comes to actually watching the movie, the experience is a lackluster one. It's just missing the umph of Altman's best films.