| July 3, 2017

When Mark (Kellan Lutz; Breaking Dawn) and Sean (Jesse Williams; Cabin in the Woods) steal trade secrets from the pharmaceutical company they work for and sell them for $5 million, Mark is ready to count his blessings and retire from his short-lived life of crime while Sean knows that $2.5 only buys so much cocaine and sees the scam as a good first step.  While Mark and his wife Sylvia (Jess Weixler; The Good Wife) have Sean and his latest girlfriend Christina (Lucia Guerrero) over for dinner, they’re interrupted by a charming stranger (Jamie Bamber; Battlestar: Galactica), who invites himself in for a drink and then reveals that he knows about Mark and Sean ill-gotten gains and has come to take it for himself.

The film is a surprisingly fun little theatre piece with the small ensemble of actors playing a cat and mouse game to get the upper hand over the others.  At first you think that John (Bamber) is simply strong-arming control over the other four, but you soon realize that part of what makes him a cool character is his ability to cause rifts between the others, earn their trust, play on their paranoia, and intimidate from a position of weakness.  Bamber plays the cunning bandit effortlessly to perfection.  He’s charming and menacing and fiercely intelligent from the moment he shows up.

I only wish the other characters were as strong.  As much as I like films with small casts of characters, the characters have to be compelling and unique to keep the film afloat.  Bamber does a remarkable job of carrying the film single-handedly while the others flounder in the shallow end.  We’re meant to root for Mark, our hero (at least at first).  He seems like a good guy who for some reason decides to steal from his company and get really rich.  His motivations are never clear though he claims he did it for his wife to keep her in the lifestyle she’s grown accustomed to.  Doesn’t really make sense since it’s also established that the couple is financially very comfortable, having already paid for this expensive (and ugly) house and making enough to be very happy beyond that.  So, it feels like he has a deeper motivation but that is never made clear, maybe as a choice to not let the audience lose too much sympathy for him.

Sean’s motivations are clear though cliché.  Addicted to drugs and the thrill of pulling off this heist, he’ll keep going until he’s in prison or in the ground.  I like Jesse Williams a lot, but this unhinged wannabe badass doesn’t do much for me.  He’s arrogant to the point of stupidity and I have a hard time believing that he convinced the seemingly straight-laced Mark to go along with his scheme and jeopardize his comfortable little lifestyle. The only character more useless than Sean is his girlfriend Christina, who is very dull and seems to only have lines when the writers feel she hasn’t said anything in a while.

Sylvia is the best the four couple characters, but while I feel like I’m supposed to root for her as a strong female character, I just can’t.  Her intentions change many times over the course of the film, and given where she ends up, it’s hard for me to get behind the moral high ground she spouts through it all.  In many ways this is an infidelity story where the wife justifies cheating on the husband because he’s cheated on her, except that in this movie there is no infidelity.

Fortunately, Bamber really saves the film.  I had a really fun time with it just because he’s on screen most of the time, adapting to unforeseen circumstances and biding his time until he can regain the upper hand.  It’s simple, and we aren’t given his backstory of how he knows Mark and Sean have pulled this con, and have this money, but there’s something satisfying about him just being that intelligent of a character that he’s figured all this out, cased Mark’s home, and makes his play.  Him alone is worth checking this out.

Available now on DVD from 20th Century Fox.

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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