out of five
: 126 mins
Bandits was originally known by the far superior title of The Sleepover
Bandits, so named because Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton play a pair of bank robbers who become famous for their method of staying over at bank managers’ houses before robbing their banks the next morning.
The story is told in a three-part flashback structure after one of their hold-ups goes spectacularly wrong. A TV crime show looks back on their lives, while, at the same time, we see Joe (Willis) and Terry (Thornton) looking back over their lives during their final hold-up and wondering where it all went wrong.
To make things more confusing, this is intercut with interview footage they gave the crime programme beforehand, by breaking into the presenter’s home and demanding an interview.
It doesn’t take long before both Terry and Joe agree where it all went pear-shaped – the moment they met Kate (Cate Blanchett), a disturbed and depressed housewife who literally runs into Thornton and then tags along with the duo, both of whom duly fall in love with her.
It’s here that Bandits has a few genuine surprises up its sleeve, in the development of what turns out to be a refreshingly unconventional
relationship between the three main leads – it’s to Blanchett’s credit that she makes this work as well as it does.
The performances are a delight, with Bruce Willis reigning in his trademark smirk-and-quip persona and giving a quieter, more thoughtful performance that even allows him to subtly riff on his usual ‘hero’ shtick.
It’s Billy Bob Thornton and Cate Blanchett who steal the show, though, with the former wringing maximum laughs from his uptight, neurotic, hypochondriac character ("You know, he made no plan for this whatsoever", he moans to the guard of the first bank they rob), and the latter looking fabulous with bright red hair and pulling off the difficult task of staying sympathetic while falling for both men.
There are several comic highlights, as well as numerous off-the-wall
moments, such as Thornton awaking from a nightmare by yelling "Beavers and ducks!".
Particular highlights include: Blanchett’s singing scene by the bonfire; Thornton’s first encounter with Blanchett (he hi-jacks her car then begs her to stop and let him out when he realises how crazy she is); and the numerous encounters they have with the families of the bank managers.
In addition, the script crackles with great lines and there are plenty of film references to keep film buffs happy, including the Walls of Jericho bit from It Happened One Night ("I saw this in a movie", says Willis) and sundry other references to Spinal Tap, The Odd Couple, Some Like It Hot and Play It Again, Sam, amongst others.
In short, this is a well made, well directed, superbly acted little
comedy-drama that cracks along nicely and has a few surprises up its sleeve. Recommended.