Transgression speaks to the wicked
deep in their hearts;
there is no fear of God
before their eyes.
For they flatter themselves in their own eyes
that their iniquity cannot be found out and hated.
The words of their mouths are mischief and deceit;
they have ceased to act wisely and do good.
They plot mischief while on their beds;
they are set on a way that is not good;
they do not reject evil.
This film has been reviewed by other critics as a typical heist film that provides a diversion from the summer heat. However, at the advanced screening I found the film a bit frightening—or I should say, its effect on the audience frightening. In great detail we follow the exploits of a tight knit gang bank robbers: Gordon Jennings (Idris Elba), John Rahway (Paul Walker), A.J. (Hayden Christensen), Jake Attica (Michael Ealy) and Jesse Attica (Chris Brown) and of two cops out to catch them, Jack Welles (Matt Dillion) and Eddie Hatcher (Jay Hernandez). The inter-racial gang has been very successful, and thus lives well in luxurious digs.
When Ghost (T.I.) is released from prison, he expects to rejoin them and resume his close relationship, but they seem hesitant to welcome him, apparently uncertain of his loyalty, even though he had accepted his incarceration without uttering one word about his accomplices. Only with reluctance do they agree to join him in his plan to snatch millions of dollars during a money transfer to a large bank. The planning and its execution are elaborate, and with the computer-enhanced special effects, certain to please fans of action flicks. There is even an exciting shootout with a rival gang of Russian thugs.
Our two cops have their problems, Matt Dillon’s Jack Welles having lost his wife due to his intense dedication to his police work. We can understand why she left him in the sequence in which Jack is taking his young daughter for an afternoon of fun. However, along the way, he spots one of the crooks’ vans and starts to tail him, heedless of the presence of his daughter and any danger that might ensue. The day is far-gone before he tells her that now they can go and have fun. By then all she wants is to go home. Eddie Hatcher (Jay Hernandez) has even greater problems, which we will not go into.
The audience reaction that troubled me was their laughing and cheering when one of the cops was shot by a gang member. Although flawed, neither cop was depicted as despicable, though Matt Dillon’s played the “bad cop” in the interrogation room, slapping and cursing the perp. Thus, when an audience cheers the demise, it’s clear that they are on the side of the crooks, which is borne out even more when we witness the fate of the surviving cop. Just how much race is an issue, the audience and the crooks being mostly black, is something to think about—what has happened to us Americans since dr. king’s “I Have a Dream” speech? The film’s ending, which I will not go into further, is equally disturbing, almost as if the filmmakers had read the above psalm passage and said, “Yeah, that’s right. So what?”
Some spoilers are necessary to probe the issues raised by the film, so do beware of reading further.
1. What do you think of the way in which the gang members are depicted? How does the film glamorize them? How is this similar to other films? Think back to some of the gangster movies of the 1930s and 40s in which James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart of Edward G. Robinson played. They might have been glamorized, but what eventually happens to them? (Even to Bonny and Clyde in the anti-establishment film of the same name.)
2. How are the cops depicted? Not as flawless as those in TV crime dramas, are they? With whom do you think we are supposed to sympathize? Which side did the audience take—the gang or the cops? Do you think that the race of the viewers is an important factor?
3. How did you feel about the way the film concluded? Which side does this ending suggest the filmmakers are on? Compare this ending with that of Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors. How is one a meditation on good and evil and human choice, and the other just another action film, perhaps appealing to the darker side of ourselves?
4. What do you think of the title, taken from the gangster who says, “We’re takers…” ? What do you think he would think of the gospel saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” ? How does the last shot of the gang bear out the title? What do you think will be their eventual fate?