TIFF 2013: ‘Life of Crime’ a fine addition to canon of Elmore Leonard adaptations

Life of Crime

Life of Crime
Written and directed by Daniel Schechter
USA, 2013

With the timing of a well-orchestrated heist, the latest screen adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel closes this year’s Toronto Film Festival. Given his recent passing and the well-deserved plaudits from various luminaries of pen and screen, his rap sheet has been celebrated over the past few weeks. Based on Leonard’s novel The Switch, writer and director Daniel Schechter has managed to embezzle a fine addition to the long list of lean Leonard works. Although it doesn’t quite hit the jackpot, it does manage to purloin some fine criminal characters and a gutsy group of belly laughs to boot.

Ordell Robbie (Yasiin Bey/Mos Def) and Louis Gara (John Hawkes) are looking to take down one big score, so when their inside guy alerts them to a wealthy mark, they hatch a devious kidnapping plan. Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston) is the unfortunate object of their criminal affections, married to the odious Florida property magnate Frank Dawson (a squirm-inducing Tim Robbins) in a affection free union. She’s busy banging her tennis coach Marshall (Will Forte), who is also smitten with the devious Melanie (Isla Fisher). When the slightly buffoonish Robbie and Gara embark on their scheme, they genially deal with the revelation that Frank may not want to see his wife anymore. What’s more, a bout of Stockholm syndrome derived affection may be developing between Mickey and Louis.

Although it never quite gets on a winning streak, Life Of Crime is a reasonable addition to the world of Leonard adaptations. Like Leonard’s trademark taut prose style, Schechter′s direction is similarly direct and perfunctory, abducting scenes with minimal coverage and letting the characters drive the scam. Hawkes, as always, is quietly great but Aniston seems woefully miscast as the confused Mickey, all chirpy surprise and feigned resignation. She honestly feels as if she has wandered into shot from a light comedy shooting at the same time. The real stars are Isla Fisher as the scheming and avaricious Melanie, who shrewdly pushes Frank not to follow the criminals’ instructions; and Mark Boone Jr. as an imbecilic Aryan brotherhood accomplice, in probably his biggest on-screen part to date. (You may remember him best as the corrupt cop Flass in Batman Begins.)

The tone is spritely with little threat or danger that anyone is about to get clipped for a sweet haul of that which makes the world go around, and the plot moves into unpredictable waters with more of a peppy caper flavour than the more sour American crime thrillers of the past few years. The usual suspects—Jackie Brown, which shares the some of the same characters, and Out Of Sight—remain the big, bulky jailhouse bosses in the exercise paddock of Leonard movies, but Life Of Crime is a fine addition to the cinematic penal colony.

- John McEntee

The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 5th to 15th, 2013. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, please visit the official site.

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By John

John McEntee has been addicted to movies ever since he saw the hallucinatory Stargate sequence that closed 2001: A Space Odyssey which made him burst into terrified tears. He was twenty-six at the time. Based in London John works in Local Government but makes the most of the celluloid capital of UK by attending as many BFI and art cinema related events as possible as well as enjoying the odd Hollywood blockbuster. From Antonioni to Bresson, from Malick to Mann, Kubrick to Kurosawa, Carpenter to Craven, John is addicted to the movies although he harbours a secret preference for film noir, the golden seventies of US cinema and anything remotely good in either the SF or Horror field. Especially if it makes him cry.

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