Monday, September 24, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Thieves Like Us (1974) **½

R, 123 min.
Director: Robert Altman
Writers: Calder Willingham, Joan Tewkesbury, Robert Altman, Edward Anderson (novel)
Starring: Keith Carradine, Shelley Duvall, John Schuck, Bert Remsen, Louise Fletcher, Ann Latham, Tom Skerritt

There are a great many elements about this film the work very well. The Robert Altman touch is there and his greatness shimmers beneath the surface of this period film. Unfortunately, the whole thing also seems to drag along as if it’s waiting to make its point. I enjoy the film more in retrospect than I did watching it.

The movie follows three escaped convicts who go back into the business of robbing banks once they’re free and clear. Keith Carradine plays the major role as the youngest of the gang, the one who fell into bank robbing more by association than by choice. The other two are experienced bank robbers. Carradine’s character was in jail for murder, although it would seem his involvement was not that malicious. Carradine brings a bright freshness to an otherwise drab existence of hiding from the law in less than desirable living situations.

Although Carradine is a free spirit, he takes a liking to a young woman played by Altman favorite Shelley Duvall. There’s a great innocent quality to their relationship, although Carradine is pretty forthright about his lifestyle. They’re scenes together are the best of the film as they are the most fully formed characters. Their story was more interesting than the criminal life depicted here as well, and ultimately more satisfying.

I am unfamiliar with the Edward Anderson novel upon which the film is based. Altman made it a common practice to develop his material from other mediums. I suspect this story works better as a book, however, since there is so much static energy in it. There’s a lot of waiting around, laying low from the law. I can’t say as that I wouldn’t recommend it to fans of Altman, but I don’t see a whole lot of mass appeal to this material. Movies like “Bonnie & Clyde” and Terrence Malick’s “Badlands” cover similar territory in more entertaining fashion. This movie might be more representative of the criminal lifestyle during the time period depicted, but it’s less exciting.

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