Eccentricity oozes from the pores of the characters in "Bandits," a
lovably offbeat comedy-drama directed by Barry Levinson (2000's "An
Everlasting Piece"). The trio of outcasts (played by Bruce Willis, Billy
Bob Thornton, and Cate Blanchett) refuse to play by anyone's rules but
their own, yet their desperate yearning to be appreciated and loved has
left them feelings lonely. There is an underlying sadness that permeates
through "Bandits," which ultimately leads to a sudden redemption on all
of their parts that, no matter how short-lived, gives them the chance to
do just that--live.
Following a successful, spur-of-the-moment escape from prison, inmates
Joe Blake (Bruce Willis) and Terry Collins (Billy Bob Thornton) go on the
lam together. With a penchant for robbing banks in the broad daylight (but
not before spending the night at the bank manager's house the night before),
they soon become criminal celebrities routinely labeled the "Sleepover
Bandits." Joe is the rugged, fast-talking leader of the operation, while
Terry is the sensitive, rational one; together, they make the perfect
team. A mixture of unexpected love, conflict, and aid comes in the form
of Kate Wheeler (Cate Blanchett), a depressed, underappreciated housewife
who literally runs into Terry with her car, and decides it would be best
to join them on the road. After all, it's a whole lot more exciting than
the stagnant life she has been leading, and she sees in both Joe and
Terry the type of person she has always dreamed about.
The bank robbery sequences have an easygoing, screwball feel to them that
makes the idea of robbing banks seem almost too easy. There is a great
early scene in which Joe and Terry stay the night with one of the managers'
families and eat dinner with them. Snappily written and with a pitch-perfect
comedic tone, it is ten minutes of sheer dynamite, complimented by an
honest, funny supporting turn by Stacey Travis (2000's "Traffic"), as the
manager's upset wife.
The section of "Bandits" that really cooks, however, is the three-way
friendship-romance that blossoms between Joe, Terry, and Kate. Joe and
Terry fall in love with Kate, and for a while, they accept the idea of
sharing such a smart, beautiful woman. Their amiability on the topic
does not last when things get sticky. In one truthful moment, Kate explains
to a battling Joe and Terry that she could never choose between them
because, together, they are the perfect human being. Joe and Kate's initial
connection with each other is also one of surprising sweetness and
originality: they discover a mutual love for the song, "Total Eclipse
of the Heart," by Bonnie Tyler, which Kate describes as "the ultimate
haiku to the complexity of love." She may be right.
As friends Joe and Terry, Bruce Willis (2000's "Unbreakable") and Billy
Bob Thornton (1999's "Pushing Tin") perform their roles with efficiency
and earnestness, but it is Cate Blanchett (2000's "The Gift") who steals
the show as the one-of-a-kind Kate. In one of the standout performances
of the whole year, Blanchett, equipped with a flowing wave of red hair,
radiates the screen with every motion, nuance, and line of dialogue.
Kate is also the most intriguing character; first seen lip-synching to
a song while preparing an extravagant dinner, only for her uncaring
husband to abruptly inform her he won't be eating, she is a woman on
the edge of a nervous breakdown. Through her chance meeting with Joe and
Terry, she finds her saviors, and a reason for living.
The general premise of "Bandits" is not a new one; its roots go much
further back than 1967's "Bonnie & Clyde." The final twenty minutes also
slow down a little as the plot grows more complicated. What stands out,
then, is a lovely three-way relationship that develops with delicacy and
joy. The soundtrack is also well-chosen; not only is the talented Bonnie
Tyler on prominent display, but so is "Beautiful Day," by U2, and the
gorgeous ballad, "Superman (It's Not Easy)," by Five For Fighting. Smartly
written by Harley Peyton (TV's "Twin Peaks") and directed by Barry Levinson,
"Bandits" takes a conventional setup and gives the characters and
performances so much life that they prove to be anything but commonplace.
Copyright © 2001 Dustin Putman