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In Your Queue: Old Men and Thieves

April 10, 2013
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I’m Not Rappaport - Herb Gardner (1996)

It’s a damn shame that we’ve lost both Walter Matthau and Ossie Davis in the years since I’m Not Rappaport came out. They were true titans, actors with depth and range honed on the stage in the 40s before making it to Hollywood. They star here as Nat Moyer and Midge Carter, two old Joes who while away the days in Central Park, each fleeing pasts full of regret as well as the limited future offered to them by a daughter who wants to send Nat off on “the Siberian Express” to a home, and a tenant board president that wants to oust Midge from his superintendent job and his apartment. A common enemy, the young bully JC (Guillermo Díaz) and the old bully (Craig T. Nelson), and a common friend, the young artist Laurie (Martha Plimpton) unite these two men to common goals, even though Midge can’t stand Nat, who never met a moment of silence he liked. Davis and Matthau are a perfect couple, bounding back and forth between spasms of hilarity and pulses of heartbreak with a fine ease. They are charming to the extreme in every second of the picture. Charm is something of a dead artform these days, where everyone is so busy brooding or being a badass to flash that smile and break into any heart like a crowbar. (Available to stream on Netflix)

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The Good Thief – Neil Jordan (2003)

Neil Jordan’s The Good Thief – a remake of Jean-Pierre Melville French new wave classic Bob le Flambeur — was the first film Nick Nolte starred in after his notorious arrest (and mugshot) for driving under the influence of GHB. He wasn’t in rehab that long, but a string of bombs between The Good Thief in 2003 and The Thin Red Line in 1998 make it a fair deal to call this a comeback film. And what a comeback it was for the gravelly leading man. He plays Bob, a lowlife gambler and junkie with a colorful background in big money heists and art forgery who is wasting his life away in beautiful Monte Carlo. Or at least Monte Carlo has beautiful parts, but Jordan takes us to the back alleys and dive bars that the tourists don’t usually get to see. That’s where Bob assembles his crew to pick off a vault full of priceless paintings once he realizes the ones hanging in a new casino are forgeries. Like any other heist film, only a tenacious cop (the maniacal genius, Tchéky Karyo) and one of the most sophisticated vaults ever designed stand in the way of the biggest score of their lives.

As a film, I prefer The Good Thief to Bob le Flambeur, maybe only for the fact that I saw the remake first. Bob le Flambeur is also excellent, but there is an existential malaise that permeates the original that the remake doesn’t have. It’s livelier, which feels like an important thing in a heist movie. Both are more than heist films, though that’s the main thrust of each. They are both about a crooked sort of redemption. Neither of the Bobs is an underdog, they are both unrealized heroes who have lost their path in life in a dramatic way. In The Good Thief, Anne (Nutsa Kukhianidze), a young girl with a broken wing making all of the wrong choices that Bob has already made, is his path to redemption. She may not need all of the help he offers, indeed she may actually help him more than he helps her, but redemption isn’t a solid state, it’s whatever gets you by. The odds are against it working, but it’s Monte Carlo, so its worth the bet. (Available on Netflix – and just for good measure, you can stream the original on Hulu)

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