Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Thieves Like Us

Based on the novel by Edward Anderson, Thieves Like Us is the story of three men who escaped prison as they go on a crime spree throughout the American South during the 1930s. Directed by Robert Altman and screenplay by Altman, Joan Tewkesbury, and Calder Willingham, the film is a loose remake of Nicholas Ray’s 1949 film They Live by Night which was also an adaptation of Anderson’s novel as it blends elements of humor and crime. Starring Keith Carradine, Shelley Duvall, John Schuck, Tom Skerritt, Bert Remsen, and Louise Fletcher. Thieves Like Us is a riveting and mesmerizing film from Robert Altman.

Set during the Great Depression in the American South, the film revolves around a trio of escaped convicts who become bank robbers as they would become successful and notorious only to go way over their head when they are later pursued by the authorities. It’s a film with a simple premise as it play into three men that want to live the good life during the Depression as well as endure some of the trappings of success in their work as bank robbers. The film’s screenplay by Robert Altman, Joan Tewkesbury, and Calder Willingham does follow a straightforward narrative but it’s really more about three guys trying to plan robberies and such as one of them is a young man named Bowie (Keith Carradine) is someone that is learning the ropes of robbing but is eager to wanting to have a good life with a young woman in Keechie (Shelley Duvall). Yet, Bowie is pressured to continue robbing by his partners T-Dub (Bert Remsen) and Chicamaw (John Schuck) as the latter becomes more violent and troubling to the point that he would cause a lot of trouble.

Altman’s direction has elements of style in terms of the compositions and scenes he creates but he also does things that doesn’t play into conventions such as the robberies where he never reveals what happens during the robbery. Instead, it’s about the action outside where Bowie is the getaway driver as he waits for T-Dub and Chicamaw leaving the bank and getting into the car. It’s among these moments in the film that has Altman deviate from what is expected in caper films as he’s more concerned about the characters and how they plan a robbery. Even if it means laying low between robberies where they can get a chance to enjoy themselves as T-Dub would live at a house with Chicamaw and a woman whose young adult daughter is someone he is in love with. Shot largely on location in the state of Mississippi, Altman does maintain that air of realism into the locations such as the swamps and dirt roads along with showing this period of the American South during the Depression that was grimy but also kind of exciting.

Altman’s direction also emphasizes on the usage of radio reports as well as diegetic music to capture the idea of the times where it is either used as a form of entertainment or to intensify the drama during the film’s second act where Bowie, T-Dub, and Chicamaw become fugitives. Altman’s usage of long takes in the drama add to an energetic tone as well as the events that would occur in the third act with Chicamaw becoming violent as Bowie finds himself being a reluctant participant in these violent acts. Even as Bowie wants to take part in a simple life with Keechie but is pulled into wanting to participate in more robberies as it would eventually get more troubling. All of which has Altman showcase these haunting moments of violence that would haunt Bowie whose life is in greater danger just as he’s trying to make changes for himself. Overall, Altman crafts a witty yet compelling film about three convicts making a name for themselves as bank robbers during the Great Depression.

Cinematographer Jean Boffety does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it has a low-key approach to the way many of the daytime exteriors look with ideas of grainy photography as well as the way some of the scenes at night are lit. Editor Lou Lombardo does amazing work with the editing as it has an air of style for its usage of jump-cuts as well as a key scene towards the end with its usage of slow-motion as it is a highlight of the film. Costume designer Polly Platt does excellent work with the costumes from the look of the dresses the women wear as well as the clothes the men wear during those times. Sound mixer Don Matthews does fantastic work with the sound in the way music and radio programs sound like inside a car or at a house as well as the atmosphere of the locations including the scenes involving overlapping dialogue.

The film’s superb cast include some notable small roles from Arch Hall Sr. as a young man who picks up Bowie, T-Dub, and Chicamaw early in the film, Al Scott as a prison warden, Ann Latham as T-Dub’s young lover Lula, and Tom Skerritt in a terrific small role as the general store owner Dee Mobley who also runs a small-time criminal operation that he eventually abandoned. Louise Fletcher is fantastic as Lula’s mother Mattie as a woman who lets T-Dub, Bowie, and Chicamaw stay at her home where it eventually becomes chaotic to the point that she would later play a part in their downfall. Bert Remsen is excellent as T-Dub as eldest of the three thieves who walks with a cane and is always trying to ensure that things go well while not wanting to be violent as he enjoys the fruit of success.

John Schuck is brilliant as Chicamaw as the most brutal of the three thieves as well as someone who isn’t satisfied with robbing banks where he becomes more violent and unruly where he would get everyone into trouble. Shelley Duvall is amazing as Keechie as Mobley’s younger sister who falls for Bowie as they embark on a relationship where she knows what he does but also keeps it a secret while dealing with the idea that Bowie would abandon the good life in favor of the thrill of danger. Finally, there’s Keith Carradine in an incredible performance as Bowie as a young thief who contemplates his role as someone who is a robber where he relishes in having money and wanting a good life but becomes disturbed by some of the violence he encounters as it’s a role that has Carradine display humor but also someone who comes to term with the trouble he’s created and the need to make things right.

Thieves Like Us is a sensational film from Robert Altman that features great performances from Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall. Along with its ensemble cast, evocative cinematography, loose take on theft and notoriety, and an unconventional take on the caper genre. It’s a film that play into the idea of three men wanting to succeed through crime only to go way over their heads once they become notorious. In the end, Thieves Like Us is a phenomenal film from Robert Altman.

Robert Altman Films: (The Delinquents) – (The James Dean Story) – Countdown (1968 film) - (That Cold Day in the Park) – M.A.S.H. - Brewster McCloud - McCabe & Mrs. Miller - (Images) – The Long Goodbye - California Split - Nashville - Buffalo Bill and the Indians or, Sitting Bull's History Lesson - 3 Women - (A Wedding) – (Quintet) – (A Perfect Couple) – (HealtH) – Popeye - (Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean) – (Streamers) – (Secret Honor) – (O.C. and Stiggs) – Fool for Love - (Beyond Therapy) – (Aria-Les Boreades) – (Tanner ’88) – (Vincent & Theo) – The Player - Short Cuts - Pret-a-Porter - (Kansas City) – (The Gingerbread Man) – Cookie's Fortune - Dr. T and the Women - Gosford Park - The Company - (Tanner on Tanner) – A Prairie Home Companion

© thevoid99 2018

1 comment:

Dell said...

I haven't seen this, but it's clear I need more Robert Altman in my life. I think the only movie I've seen of his is M*A*S*H.