Bandit was directed by Allan Ungar, written by Kraig Wenman who adapts from a novel by Robert Knuckle, and stars Josh Duhamel, Elisha Cuthbert, Nestor Carbonell, Swen Temmel, and Mel Gibson. It's about the true story of the Flying Bandit, who robbed 59 Canadian banks while being hunted by a police task force.
The Plot: Plenty of movies have been made about the exploits of criminals working their way through a series of banks and stores for curated jewels and currency, and there will be plenty more for things to come. Wenman's rendition though, has one of those "stranger than fiction" stories that's virtually unequivocal to its brothers in the cinemascape.
Reaganomics has taken its toll on America's lower and middle class, with people like Gilbert Galvan Jr. (Duhamel) opting to go the fraudulent route in life, resulting in their imprisonment - in his case - that gets him only 18 months, but that's too long, for him and the movie to linger on. Bandit has a bit of an issue with breezing past certain moments like this that would've been interesting to get at least a couple minutes to grasp, instead it moves onto Canada, with Gilbert donning the alias of Robert Whiteman.
Energy is had in spades, but the movie is able to slow down to track details with Andrea (Cuthbert), who Gilbert takes up with after his arrival. Some months later, Gilbert has to begin getting money the hard way, starting a spree of robberies that require some help as cops Snydes (Carbonell) and Hoffman (Temmel) start a task force to catch the flying bandit. Crime lord Tommy (Gibson) becomes Gilbert's partner as he goes cross-country on a bewildering and sometimes overstuffed streak.
In a vacuum, the plot is decently above average, but with the knowledge that large parts of what Bandit depicts actually happened, it raises itself another notch ahead of other crooks in the business, structural issues or nay.
The Characters: Motives and personality for the lead is fully realized in Wenman's screenplay, which tracks subplots and dynamics impeccably while rarely dipping into cliche, which mostly resides in the side characters.
Gilbert is immensely charming, but he kind of has to be since his skills are limited and his upbringing troubled. Though he tries to do the right thing for almost a full year with relatively limited success, he can't help but resort to the less than legal once he realizes that his relationship with Andrea is going to change. Creativity is by far his strongest asset though; able to think on the fly by creating a new identity, avoiding confrontation with smooth talking, and selling pitches with ease. He makes mistakes, keeping him human, but retains the larger-than-life personality of the man - largely due to Duhamel's fantastic acting.
Andrea falls fast for Gilbert's (Robert to her) charms. The romance that blossoms between them is a little forced, happening over the course of a handful of scenes together, but one the hurdle is cleared, there's a greater understanding to the character. She's not too different from her new flame since she's been burned the same way by the economic shift of the 80s. Her work at a church hostel comes into play for a little while too, as the movie makes mention of the relationship woes that come from Gilbert's "father" and so forth.
Snydes and Hoffman are a familiar duo. The former is fed up with the skyrocketing robberies in the country, angry at the same system that Gilbert is for drastically different reasons. He's willing to cut corners and take a hit to his income if it means catching culprits, whereas Hoffman is the opposite - a straight man with an odd vocabulary that bounces off of Snydes' sarcastic demeanor. All of these characters make for a colorful roster and are exceptionally performed by a who are clearly having a great time playing them.
The Crime: Surreal doesn't begin to describe the criminal antics of Bandit, which benefits from some of the most baffling and comedic heisting I think I've ever seen put to film. Eventually the point is made and these sequences begin to lose their luster, but watching the bizarre ways that both the robber and the cops work is utterly fascinating.
Charting the rise of the notorious thief is a process pulled off with ease by Ungar, who inches Gilbert towards a path of no return by slowly dropping off potential places of employment while a traditional family life begins to take shape. Audaciousness is present before either cop or robber enters a bank, as Gilbert spontaneously bargains with a homeless man for his ID, winning it for a meager sum and carving out a position for himself in the underworld.
Of course, the larceny is the main attraction, and the movie doesn't disappoint. Nervousness permeates the first crime, Gilbert doesn't really know what he's doing, renting a costume and fake nose while pretending he has a weapon to surprising success. His penchant for disguises is clever and endearing, even though most of them look awful (on purpose in the feature but unintentional in reality), even to those he sticks up for the cash. Bandit does eventually manage to escalate beyond these low-end jobs, taking on jewelers for greater reward, but Gilbert remains the same charisma radiator as before - even managing to win over a few frequent faces.
Project Café takes its time to get approved even as the titular character makes headlines, only making Snydes and Hoffman more eager to stop the crook. Their stakeouts give great insight into what it must've been like to be part of the case; watching as different looking guys who drive the same car arrive at Tommy's place and never being able to place any of the pieces in the right positions. Once the task force starts to grapple with the absurd, their investigation gains momentum, re-upping tension when it loses steam.
Criminal actions are in no short supply, and the novelty lasts for the majority of the film, making Bandit quirky in the right ways, even when some of the subject matter leans into familiar territory.
The Technics: Despite being an indie production, Bandit has plenty of stylistics and competent dressing to match its main character. Though it can waver at times due to some insistence to go overboard, it's a strong piece.
Recognizing the silliness of the premise is the best choice that the people behind the movie could've made in service of entertainment value. A lot of the laughs - and there are many - come naturally, but enjoyably campy makeup effects, nice editing from Ungar and Michael Lane, along with the snappy dialogue from Wenman pair superbly with the feature. In different hands, this could've been a silly subject taken too seriously. Sometimes the score can overplay itself in scenes that would've benefitted from the awkward silence of exchanges, the filmmakers had the right idea.
Pacing does become a problem by the last act, as the movie simply runs out of things to do. Cutting some of the extraneous robberies would not only make each one more memorable, tense and funny, but the runtime would've benefitted too, making the movie resemble Gilbert Galvan Jr. In the speed he gets in and out without a hitch.
Stories like this don't get a lot of attention simply because most people don't know how to handle the material. While Bandit isn't perfect in its execution, it's a fun ride bolstered by phenomenal acting and a willingness to embrace the absurdity of it all.
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