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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Bandits: SE
Bandits: SE
MGM // PG-13 // April 2, 2002
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted March 9, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

After walking out of "Bandits" last Fall, I found myself dissapointed. It's not one of those ruin-my-day pieces of bad cinema, it's simply a film with potential that desperately needs tightening. Certainly, Barry Levinson has found success with character dramas such as "Avalon" and "Wag The Dog", but anything bigger, such as "Sphere" or "Bandits" (ok, some people like "Toys") and he doesn't seem to be able to juggle the elements. "Bandits" is a film that works in bursts - anytime when tension is built, Levinson lets the film slack. The film wants to be a lot of things - an actioner, a drama, a romance, a comedy, and really ends up being not that successful at any of those.

The film is the story of the "Sleepover Bandits", one of the most popular bank robbery teams ever in the nation's history, according to the opening sequence. As the film begins, Joe (Bruce Willis) and Terry(Billy Bob Thornton) have just made a daring daylight escape from their prison stay. Once they're free and clear, they discuss their goals - to eventually open up a resort in Mexico and live free and clear. The only problem is that resorts cost money and, as criminals, they find it appropriate that they get their money from stealing from banks. Terry comes up with the idea to kidnap the bank manager, spend the night and go in early the next day before any of the customers come in.

For a while, this works well - the two start small and go onto a national level of fame, ending up on the news. Unfortunately, things begin to go downhill with the addition of Kate (Cate Blanchett), a bored housewife who runs (literally, with her car) into Terry. Tired of her dull life with a husband who doesn't care about her, she's excited about becoming one of the gang, which also includes their getaway driver, who's a wannabe stuntman. She also ends up falling for not one, but both of the bandits.

The performers are not the problem. Billy Bob Thornton's performance is easily the best of the three. There's lines here that seem like obvious improvs (after Thornton's character falls out of a car, he walks around a grassy field and goes, "are we in Scotland?") as they are don't gel with the rest of the movie's sense of humor. After some of the slower passages of the film, Thornton's lines seem even snappier. Thorton also works terrifically with Willis; they feel like an odd couple who genuinely work well together and don't have to force the chemistry. Willis has previously stated that he quite enjoyed working with Thorton on director Michael Bay's "Armageddon", and that friendship is definitely apparent again here. Blanchett, as expected, turns in an enjoyable performance, but the character certainly needs work - it's not very well-developed nor very interesting.

Thinking about "Bandits", I believe the reason I never really became invested in the picture is that the film itself never really seemed that invested in its own events. Only a few sequences involving close-call escapes provide any drama or tension. Levinson, who hasn't exactly had a fine track record as of late with "Sphere" and the equally horrid "Everlasting Piece", seems too pleased with the material and, as a result, the film feels unnecessarily talky, repetitive and forced instead of pushing the plot forward at a reasonable rate. What really could have helped "Bandits" more than anything is about 20 minutes worth of editing to considerably pick up the pace - there's certainly a fair amount of unnecessary exposition that could go. Rather than building steadily towards the finale, "Bandits" keeps starting up and then grinding to a halt.

At least "Bandits" looks good, with ace cinematographer Dante Spinotti ("Family Man", many Michael Mann films) providing crisp, attractive images and often filming Blanchett in a way that makes her appear even more beautiful than she usually appears. Ultimately, "Bandits" ends up in that in-between area where it's neither bad nor good, but simply rather forgettable. It's a movie that has some definite moments and great performances (especially Thornton), but could have been improved with some considerable (20 minutes, if not a bit more) editing and stronger, more consistent writing.


VIDEO: "Bandits" is presented by MGM in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. While I wouldn't describe this as a flawless presentation, I will say that it's one of MGM's stronger presentations of a new release in recent memory. Spinotti's crisp, natural widescreen compositions look quite good again here, as the picture appeared consistently sharp and well-defined, although one or two low-light scenes looked slightly murky.

There were a few minor bumps along the way, but nothing particularly major. Some minimal pixelation and slight edge enhancement were noticed, but didn't prove to be much of a distraction. Happily, the print used is in top form, with no specks or scratches and only the slightest hint of grain on occasion - but that grain was also present in the theater.

Colors were beautifully rendered, as the film's bright, natural color palette looked crisply presented, with no smearing or other flaws. Black level was also solid and flesh-tones were accurate. Not a perfect presentation, but still very nice. The layer-change was at 1:23:40. Unfortunately, MGM has included a Pan & Scan version on the flip side.

SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Unfortunately, the film doesn't have much of a creative soundtrack. While the terrific score does have a strong presence in the presentation, there really isn't much else to discuss, as even the outdoor scenes really don't have much surround use or ambient sound in general. Surrounds are used a bit for the music and a few spare sound effects, but they're otherwise silent. Audio quality was fine, but unspectacular, as music, sound effects and dialogue came through clearly.

EXTRAS: I believe that a commentary from director Barry Levinson was to be included, but that feature does not appear here. Still, MGM has prepared a nice batch of other extras for the DVD.

Inside "Bandits": This is a newly produced 20-minute documentary, which offers thoughts from the cast, producer and screenwriter about the story's development and what it was like to work with one another. Mildly interesting.

Creating Scene 71: This is a shorter featurette that focuses on a bedroom scene between Willis and Blanchett. It's an enjoyable piece that focuses on how the filmmakers and actors start off with what's on the page and then take things step-by-step and try to build other elements into the scene.

Trailers: A new trailer for John Woo's Summer picture "Windtalkers" (Dolby Digital 5.1) and trailers for "Bandits" (2.0), "Hart's War"(5.1) and "Rocky: SE". There's also soundtrack promo.

Also: A short alternate ending with optional commentary from actress Cate Blanchett, 4 deleted scenes with no additional commentary.

Final Thoughts: "Bandits" certainly has a fine cast and moments where it shines, but there's too many scenes that seem excessive and nearly bring the pace to a halt. MGM's DVD presents the film with very good video and respectable audio quality, along with a few minor supplements. Those interested might want to try it as a rental.

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