“Ocean’s Eleven meets the Italian Job in Los Angeles” would be the one sentence pitch for Takers, a heist movie with an emphasis on style which possesses just enough charm and action to hold focus for its duration. As the singularly rubbish title suggests (surely there are better synonyms for ‘criminals’…?), we follow a crew of ‘takers’, high class crooks who make their living through fastidiously well-planned bank robberies.
It would seem this group (among them, Paul Walker, Hayden Christensen and The Wire’s Idris Elba) are pretty successful at doing what they do without getting caught, as they all live in stunning luxury rooftop apartments with swimming pools overlooking the glistening LA skyline. They wear sharp designer suits, drink expensive whiskies and attend exceedingly sexy parties populated by attractive young people and extensive mood lighting.
Truly, the professional criminal’s life is one to be envied. But a spanner is thrown into their collective works in the form of former cohort Ghost (played by rapper T.I.), just out of prison, who approaches his old gang with a proposal for a big job. The group are reluctant – Ghost is something of a wild card, and perhaps they needed to lay low – but accept, observing that “you gotta think big to win big”. In other words, it’s One Last Job.
On their tail is tough, uncompromising detective Jack Welles (Matt Dillon), from the John McClane school of cops: hard boiled, gruff talking, comes into work hungover, has a problem with authority, estranged from his wife, spends his Sundays driving around with his daughter chasing perps. If anyone is going to catch these assholes, it’s this guy.
The scene is thus set for a high-octane cat-and-mouse game as the team plan and execute their big score, to varying degrees of success, and LA’s finest keep the heat on them, to varying degrees of success. Indie director John Luessonhop, meanwhile, makes a conscious effort to provide a fresh approach to an old format – with varying degrees of success.
Luessnehop keeps things visually interesting, using a bold, colourful palette, a brave mix of dizzying camera angles and close-ups, and some well directed action scenes with a whizz-bang pace. Gratingly, some of the slow-motion gun battles have the music faded up and the sound effects down, Platoon-style, and too often Luessonhop falls into the Guy Ritchie trap of favouring style too heavily over substance. And where there is substance, it’s rehashed.
At times it’s glaringly derivative. A line of dialogue from one of the crew namechecks The Italian Job as inspiration for the heist, presumably in an attempt to avoid lawsuits – some sequences are surely tantamount to plagiarism. Key components of the big plan are shamelessly copied from the 1969 British classic, including the fiddling with the traffic lights tactic. (As if the Mark Wahlberg remake wasn’t painful enough.)
And though Takers demands to be taken seriously – note the distinct lack of witty one-liners, a sensible move – there are still some rather ludicrous elements to it. Matt Dillon is a fine actor, but his badass cop schtick couldn’t be more archetypal. The ending is unsatisfactorily, needlessly inconclusive, and this must be the third or fourth movie released this year to feature Russians as bad guys. Nonetheless, it’s an enjoyable romp, cocksure and visually assured, and though it offers little new to the overcrowded heist-movie table, Takers can’t be accused of being boring.