It would be a disservice to both Takers and HEAT to compare them to one another. HEAT is a fully realized crime epic channeling the Western in the form of a crime thriller and perhaps the greatest crime film ever made by a director in full command of the genre. Takers is a nice first effort at a crime epic from a director with spades of talent but not enough of a screenplay or cast to bring out the action thriller epic that seems to be waiting to come out.
It’s relatively simple story line. Gordon (Idris Elba) runs a group of professional thieves (Paul Walker, Hayden Christensen, Chris Brown, Michael Ealy) that specialize in the ridiculous. LAPD detectives Wellen (Matt Dillon) and Hatcher (Jay Hernandez) are the police officers wanting to take them down. When Gordon’s old associate Ghost (Clifford “T.I” Harris) brings the crew a major score, the team gets to work for the haul of a lifetime while Wellen tries to find out who they are and use it to bring them down.
And while the easy comparison would be to HEAT because it’s the more known quantity, Mann’s TV movie L.A Takedown is a much more apt comparison because the former feels like what the latter is: a good first attempt at the film in the director’s mind but not exactly what the director was looking to do in terms of scale. Takers is a trimmed down, bare bones heist feature that seems to be looking at Mann’s film for inspiration but doesn’t have any of the character arcs or character development that film has. At barley over 90 minutes there’s no time.
And that’s one of Takers strengths, oddly enough, because this is a cast of actors who generally tend to weigh their film down. This is an aesthetically pleasing cast, and big enough names to keep the film from going DTV after having its release date pushed several times beginning in November of 2009, but it isn’t one that’s very skilled outside of Idris Elba and Dillon. Dillon for example has enough scenery to chew but this seems more of a role for his brother Kevin, more famous as Johnny Drama in Entourage, than for the Oscar nominated Dillon brother. He’s given angst style moments that are standard, as he tries to balance family and career, but there isn’t enough devoted to it. Just enough to establish the character but not enough to make us really get involved. That seems to be the running motif; give the cast enough character to not completely embarrass themselves but keep it nice and light.
John Luessenhop shows plenty of potential as a story-teller, at least, and this is a marked improvement from 2000’s Lockdown. While that film was produced by rap mogul Master P as part of his attempt at becoming a big time film producer, and as such is saddled with a cast Master P’s record label, this film has a more professional cast (and as such is a bit better in that regard) but Luessenhop seems to have a big story to tell about cops and robbers that goes unfulfilled. This is a heist film, pure and simple, and Luessenhop hits exactly the right moments and doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel.
Credited to four writers, including the director, this is a story that has betrayal on both sides that seems to be more convenient as opposed to more stinging. The film’s finale, made it a bit more ludicrous given the operatic themes and score, doesn’t have the same emotional impact because it doesn’t have any depth to it. This is about as shallow as a children’s pool because the film is condensed so much that the pace is taken up to accommodate the running time. Takers feels like a good outline of a slow-paced, high intensity crime film that is cut short for commercial reasons as opposed to storyline ones.
It’s a shame because the film’s concept deserves much more than it ends up getting. Takers may have had one of the worst trailers of the decade to promote it but it is surprisingly a good film that knows its genre and sticks to making a good genre film. Give Luessenhop another 60 minutes, and perhaps a cast with more experience and talent underneath them, and this has the potential to be a crime epic on the scale of HEAT because all the pieces are there. As it stands, it’s a poor man’s L.A Takedown.
Director: John Luessenhop
Notable Cast: Paul Walker, Idris Elba, Chris Brown, Zoe Saldana, Matt Dillon, Clifford “T.I” Harris, Michael Ealy, Hayden Christensen
Writer(s): Peter Allen, Gabriel Casseus, John Luessenhop, Avery Duff