Take a Drink: for anachronistic (sociopathic?) attitudes
Take a Drink: for every tie-in to Mark Twain you can spot
Take a Drink: whenever Tom gets tongue-tied
Do a Shot: for each chapter heading
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
The couple of reviews of Band of Robbers I’ve read likens it to some sort of fusion between Wes Anderson and the Coen Brothers. Obviously, I was going to watch that.
I’d buy Bill Murray as a heartless assassin.
The story follows Tom Sawyer (Adam Nee) a small-town cop living in the shadow of his detective brother Sid (Eric Christian Olsen), who picks up old friend Huckleberry Finn (Kyle Gallner) from jail and immediately pitches him on a heist of Injun Joe’s (Stephen Lang) map to a fabled treasure they’ve been search for since childhood. The heist will also apparently land his fellow man-child friends (Matthew Gray Gubler & Hannibal Burress) some cash and make Tom out as the hero, if new deputy and instant crush Becky Thatcher (Melissa Benoist) doesn’t get in the way.
This all sounds a hell of a lot more innocent than where this ends up going. The Wes Anderson comps are almost wholly due to its similarities to Bottle Rocket, with the whole idiot best friends plan a heist and things rapidly spin out of their control angle, with the Coen Brothers having multiple points of reference to that kind of story in their oeuvre as well, of course. What I found the film most like in tone and execution, though, was another Coens pastiche which quickly found it’s own voice- Noah Hawley’s Fargo. Band of Robbers similarly mixes a dark view of human nature and the randomness of fate with an almost buffoonish comic tone, and an ace handling of villains. Lang’s Injun Joe, who’s not an Indian but “identifies with the culture and aesthetic” would fit right alongside Billy Bob Thornton and Bokeem Woodbine’s arch, verbose terminators from the show.
So much so that you kinda root for him…
Besides Lang, Gallner’s quite good as the more grown up of the two protagonists, who doesn’t quite know how to say no to his long time, incredibly deluded buddy. Hannibal Burress steals every scene he’s in with every line he delivers, which is no surprise, and his comedy nicely supplements a script full of clever anachronisms and parallels to Mark Twain. And, as all over the place as the script is, directors Adam & Aaron Nee pull it all together with a nice open-ended, nostalgic, and bittersweet ending.
It’s pretty much impossible to care about our ostensible protagonist. Nee’s Tom Sawyer is just an unpleasant human being, deluded and probably sociopathic, which is funny in concept but tiresome in practice. This also completely obviates the emotional notes the film’s trying to hit with Tom and Huck’s relationship. Gallner’s Huckleberry Finn is doing his part, but how anyone could have a real friendship with this consciousless manchild is the real issue.
That hairstyle’s already two and a half strikes against.
While awkward comedy is always not going to be everybody’s bag, Band of Robbers leans on it far too much to create both a sense of tension and a comic mood. The result are not a few scenes dialing up the awkwardness to wincing levels of painfulness.
The tones don’t quite come together as the Nee brothers would like them to, but this is still an inventive and enjoyable twist on what was quite a cheeky tale in its own time.