Every time a particular genre or subject matter finds success with moviegoers, another movie of similar type must come along to cash in; no matter how inferior its offering may be in comparison. In 2010, Ben Affleck’s second directorial effort, “The Town”, was a critically acclaimed and commercially successful heist film that has been receiving award nominations left and right. Hot on its heels was the heist film, “Takers”, but this movie is far less concerned with story, character development, or acclaim. No, this movie’s focus is solely on looking hip and stylish.
“Takers” follows a group of thieves as they prepare for the most daring heist of their illustrious career. With only a small window of opportunity, the crew must push their every skill to the limit, and even then, success may prove more difficult than they ever imagined.
So, when a film’s primary focus is on looking as cool as possible to moviegoers, how good could said film actually be? The answer, at least in this film’s case (and in most other similar instances), is…not very good at all.
Sure, this movie entertains on some levels, primarily during the various action sequences. That being said, it’s hard for anyone to make an action scene be boring in the first place, so that hardly counts. For the majority of its duration, the movie is so full of plot holes, clichés, and a general lack of anything resembling character development, that the film simply does not function as a whole.
Written by Peter Allen, Gabriel Casseus, John Luessenhop, and Avery Duff (almost all of them first-time screenwriters) the film feels like it’s simply a collection of potentially entertaining ideas. The problem is the writers didn’t know how to fit all the ideas together or explain their purposes in the story along the way.
To start things off, each member of the crew exhibits some unique, and always handy, skill set that will be showcased at one point or another during the film. However, not a single one of these skills are ever discussed in a way for the audience to understand how the particular character came to possess it. I’m not saying that everything a character does within a movie requires exposition. After all some things can, and should, be left to the audience to deduce. But, I don’t believe that almost everything should be left up to the viewer’s imagination.
For example, Paul Walker’s character is apparently a skilled sniper (at least that’s what we’re led to believe), but where did he receive his training? We don’t know and the writers aren’t telling. Chris Brown’s character shows off some parkour climbing during an overly long chase sequence. Perhaps Chris’ character learned this ability on the streets? Yet, several of the cops chasing him also seem to be decent at parkour as well. Do they teach parkour at the police academies now? Or maybe it’s a whole lot easier than it looks (though I doubt it). Another character is extremely knowledgeable in explosives, but no one ever mentions where he came by his knowledge either.
My point is that a line or two of exposition or a flashback to show where they learned these skills would go a long way in making the movie more believable. Instead they all seem like cool ideas someone shouted out during a writer’s meeting. I mean are they ex-cops? Former construction workers? Military trained? Scratch that last one, it seems unlikely as most of them don’t seem all that disciplined. It’s just that the writers need to give the audience more to go on than just a cool concept or skill. After a while some explanation to the viewer is warranted.
As far as the various characters’ relationships or just their own development along the way are concerned, don’t bother searching for anything deep. Believe me, there’s essentially nothing beyond the camaraderie amongst the crew, and that’s hardly enough to go on. For the most part, there’s nothing provided that allows the audience to connect to any of these characters.
The one attempt the writers do make towards establishing a connection between the audience and one of the crew members is with Idris Elba’s character, Gordon. The writers introduce us to a female in Gordon’s life, whom he obviously cares for and is close to in some capacity, and she happens to be in rehab for some problem. Sure, this plot device will engender some sympathy towards his character; however, this whole setup sort of suffers from the same lack of exposition that I mentioned a moment ago.
At first you’ll feel sorry for Gordon, but then you start to realize you know absolutely nothing about this person in rehab. You don’t know how she’s related to Gordon or what she’s even in for. Not until three or four scenes later, when she’s out of rehab mind you, do we receive the answers that would have been handy in promoting the empathy for his character several scenes prior. So, once you receive this important character information, you’ll most likely no longer care about the situation, because you didn’t receive this knowledge when it was most beneficial to the story.
Are you still wondering about those clichés that I mentioned? Wonder, no more. They’re spread all throughout the film in one way or another, but they are most evident in the portrayal of each and every one of the main characters.
To start things off for this ensemble cast we have Paul Walker, an actor that has shown varying degrees of talent throughout his career. There are times he is as stiff and wooden an actor as they come. Other times he sounds like he’s from the ‘hood as he frequently uses street slang, such as; “G”, “Bro”, “Yo, check it!” and other similarly brilliant colloquialisms of “thug life” (of which he most likely has no experience).
At one time, I thought Paul was past his stilted acting and slang-ridden talk with his much improved performance from 2009’s “Fast & Furious”. Yet, in this film he resurrects his wooden acting and thug talk, all in one fell swoop. Here, Paul portrays the walking cliché of the street smart, smooth talking cool guy who appears to be the brains of the operation, but really isn’t. His one-dimensional portrayal in this film has prompted me to wonder if maybe his aforementioned improved performance was nothing more than sheer luck.
Alongside Paul as the co-leader of the crew of thieves or Takers, as his character so inanely refers to them, is the generally reliable Idris Elba. Idris has shown his capable acting chops in comedic outings on “The Office”, or nail-biting thrillers such as “Obsessed”, and a critically praised turn as a detective in “Luther”.
Elba’s performance is the strongest one in the film. That being said he is the one who must utter the ridiculous line that goes something like, “We’re takers gents, we take, it’s what we do.” Wow, that is brilliant how the writers worked the movie’s title into the dialogue like that. Very impressive…oh wait, no it isn’t. An actor such as Idris Elba, who is gaining popularity and respect, should maybe think twice before taking on this type of role in a movie that reeks of being nothing more than a paycheck (much like his previous film, “The Losers”).
Appearing in what amounts to be an over-glorified cameo is actress Zoë Saldana (“Avatar”) who portrays the love interest for one of the crew members. Most of Zoe’s time in the film is spent as the eye candy in the background of a few scenes (I’m not complaining, mind you). Sure, she gets a few lines here and there, but no aspect of her role really seemed vital to the overall story. An actress of her talent was wasted on such a thankless and utterly pointless role.
Then there’s veteran actor Matt Dillon (“Armored”) who ever since his Golden Globe award and Oscar nomination for his role in “Crash”, seems to be watching his career slip quietly into mediocrity. Matt portrays a seasoned cop who, as the archetype goes, has seen it all before. Matt’s character is clearly burned out with a job that has consumed every aspect of his life. I can’t really complain about Matt’s performance, he does deliver an understated and convincing depiction of a worn down cop. But, I believe this performance could also be construed as a disguise to cover the boredom on Matt’s behalf with acting in these sub-par, cliché-ridden films of late.
Lastly, one of the worst actors in Hollywood, Hayden Christensen (“Star Wars – Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”), continues his streak of unemotional and uninspired performances. There are moments where Hayden has a chance to break out of his shell and actually not appear so emotionally stunted, but these moments pass him by with nary a breakthrough.
Hayden’s character of A.J. is the proverbial tough guy with a heart of gold. Behind his character’s somewhat effeminate appearance and demeanor lies a fighter at times reminiscent of Jason Bourne. Yet, when he’s not cracking skulls or putting a bullet into someone or something, he’s playing classical music on a piano to aid in creating the perfect romantic moment for one of his fellow thieves and his girl. Basically, he’s the kind of guy that would kill you for getting in his way, and then provide the music at your funeral. Touching, isn’t it folks?
Despite its numerous drawbacks, “Takers” does have one positive working in its favor. Due to the fact that the writers couldn’t be bothered to get bogged down by quality storytelling, the movie does move quickly through its one hour and 45 minute running time. By utilizing such quick pacing, I’m sure the hope was that the audience wouldn’t have time to recognize all of the problems inherent to the film. Sorry to say, I noticed them, and I know I’m not alone in this. So, to the four writers behind this movie, I have this to say… “Better luck next time.”
“Takers” is rated PG-13 for violence, language, and brief nudity/sexuality.