DIR: Jonathan Sobol • WRI: Jonathan Sobol • PRO: Nicholas Tabarrok • DOP: Adam Swica • DES: Matthew Davies • CAST: Kurt Russell, Jay Baruchel, Matt Dillon, Katheryn Winnick, Kenneth Welsh, Terence Stamp, Chris Diamantopoulos
Since taking on the role of Stuntman Mike in Quentin Tarantino’s contribution to 2007’s Grindhouse, Kurt Russell has been largely absent from the silver screen. He did make an appearance in stepdaughter Kate Hudson’s short drama Cutlass later that year, and also co-starred in the little-seen sports film Touchback, but by and large, the immensely popular Tombstone actor has been keeping a low profile.
The box-office failure of Grindhouse – the underwhelming ticket sales in the US ensured that Death Proof was released a stand-alone film on these shores – may have played its part in this regard, although he did turn down an opportunity to work with Tango & Cash cohort Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables.
However, it was only a matter before the Massachusetts native stepped back into the breach, and having first acted in a 1962 episode of Dennis the Menace, The Art of the Steal ensures that his extraordinary career has surpassed the 50 year mark.
Directed by Canadian helmer Jonathan Sobol – whose only previous feature-length effort was A Beginner’s Guide to Endings – The Art of the Steal had earlier operated under the titles of The Black Marks and The Fix. Like many films in the genre, Sobol’s sophomore film kicks-off with a ‘heist gone wrong’, as well as the inevitable double-crossing for personal and/or financial gain.
Owing to his prowess on his prized motorbike, Russell’s Crunch Calhoun is the ‘wheel man’ on a crack team that includes his half-brother Nicky (Matt Dillon), master forger Guy de Cornet (Chris Diamantopulous) and veteran colleague ‘Uncle Paddy’ (Kenneth Welsh).
When a job in Warsaw turns sour, Dillon’s ‘Ideas Man’ is subsequently arrested, but following evidence he supplies to the authorities, Crunch finds himself on the receiving end of a seven-year sentence in a Wronki prison.
After gaining early release for good behaviour, Crunch becomes a third-rate motorcycle daredevil, with the help of his new girlfriend (Katheryn Winnick) and willing apprentice (Jay Baruchel), but is lured back into the game by his brother’s disgruntled former partner.
This forced him to, reluctantly, team up with Nicky once again, but the promise of a massive pay day for the capture of Gutenberg’s Gospel of James helps to aid their reconciliation. The appearance on the scene of a determined Interpol Agent and his informant sidekick (Terence Stamp) means that the reformed team need to be on their toes at all times, and always one step ahead.
With an impressive cast, and a director familiar with the surroundings of Quebec City and Niagara Falls, The Art of the Steal has the makings of a bonafide sleeper hit. Unfortunately, the end product is far too derivative, presenting the audience with scenarios and situations that have been explored in the past in a much more interesting fashion.
There is some pleasure to be had in the central performances, and there is plenty of spark between Russell and Dillon, who have always had the ability to elevate the most mundane of material to a greater level. Judd Apatow regular Baruchel does provide comic relief (especially in one moment that makes reference to Peter Weir’s Witness), and Stamp makes the most of relatively limited screentime.
Other members of the ensemble never quite register, however, with Winnick’s love interest marginalised for much of the action, while Welsh’s Irish accent seems to take a journey across several continents throughout the course of the drama.
In many ways, had Sobol opted to focus more on Crunch’s daredevil escapades (either partly or completely), this may well have been a more worthwhile exercise. As it is, The Art of the Steal is, at best, disposable fare, which comes complete with the standard final act plot twist/reveal.
With films like Fast & Furious 7, Tarantino’s upcoming The Hateful Eight, Bone Tomahawk and Road to Save Nome in the pipeline, as well as a possible Stargate sequel, Russell will continue to be a fixture in cinemas across the nation, and although the latest entry in his expansive body of work is a long way off being his best, his cult status remains very much intact.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Art of the Steal is released on 20th June 2014