Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Anderson Tapes (1971)

Directed by Sidney Lumet; written by Lawrence Sanders and Frank Pierson; 99 mins; color; available on DVD; it's rated PG, but I'm thinking PG-13 is a little more accurate

Genre: Ensemble Heist Action-Comedy
Actors: Sean Connery, Dyan Cannon, Alan King, Margaret Hamilton (the wicked witch of the West!)
Similar Films: The Conversation, The Thomas Crown Affair, Oceans 11
Movie In a Sentence: A thief and his team try to get "one last big score" despite the prevalence and efficacy of surveillance technology.
Should You Watch This? Nah. Don't bother. I mean, if it's already playing, go for it. But a brand new Walken is the only draw here.
RATING: I give it a 6 out of 10.
Walken Content: Only about 15 minutes or so spread out throughout the movie, but it's a strong, likeable character.

This is Christopher Walken's first big studio film and his first line in this one is a doozie. CW and Sean Connery just get released from prison, and CW turns to say goodbye to Sean, and with this energized grin, rolling his eyes in almost mock pleasure he says, "America, man, y'know it's so beautiful I wanna EAT IT."

You can't ask for a better first line than that.

His character, known as The Kid, acts as a kind of ineffectual Jiminy Cricket to Connery's Pinocchio. Connery's character, the eponymous Anderson, is the "hero" in this, despite him being an unapologetically heartless scoundrel. We're supposed to forget about how much of a prick he is and get lost in his brutish charm and lightly obscured brogue as he orchestrates that "one last big heist."

So what's the big scam? He's going to shack up with his old girlfriend in her apartment building and rob her neighbors. That's right, just clean them out. Not a bank, or a casino, or the mob. People. And the things in their home. Nice, right? Real likable.

The Anderson Tapes is a caper film that has replaced the clever twists and cunning ploys that usually drive a caper-type film, with various and numerous scenes of clandestine surveillance. That's right. Close-ups of the little spool on the cassette tape as it records the thieves' voices as they scheme, and creepy-looking mustachioed men hunched in dark rooms listening to everything. Which is cool, it is, but it doesn't GO anywhere. Nothing escalates and nothing is of value. The parade of secondary characters are fun and colorful, but certainly not enough to carry the story.

Director Sidney Lumet, who would go on to make quality films such as Dog Day Afternoon, Network, and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, seemed to not be able to make up his mind what kind of a movie this was. Was it a thriller? Cause it wasn't thrilling. A comedy? I was laughing some, but not at the punchlines. I blame its own eagerness to seem funny. It was needy. And nothing says lame like needy comedy.

The score is awful. Tinny, lame, and annoying. They kept using this shrill sound effect to show that others were listening in, a kind of electronics/sonar skree, as if we could ever forget that this is about surveillance technology. We get it.

Geez, I'm so negative.

There were some good performances. Alan King is great as Pat the mob-boss. Very Italian. He's trying to convince Connery that home security has gotten better since he's been in prison, and he says, "Some a dees places gaht moats." Charming and yet still intimidating. That's how I like my mob-bosses.

Connery's acting is fine, but whatever, and Dyan Cannon is enticing in a sex-robot kind-of-way, but ultimately she is forgotten by the end of the film, perhaps sooner.

Enough of them. How is Walken? He is brilliant, naturally, but underused. His quiet intensity crackles in his fifteen minutes or so of accumulated screen-time spread across the 95 minute story. Skinny, early twenties, plucky, and he is the moral compass of the group. Or he would be except they are jaded career criminals and so they ignore him when he gets preachy.

He has some good lines. Near the end when they're trying to decide whether to take what they've stolen and run, or continue cleaning out the last apartment. Walken wants to go, so here they are, half a dozen guys in the elevator, all wearing crazy Hannibal Lector-looking leather masks, and even through the mask Walken smirks, but you can tell he's trying to cover his panic. He turns to Anderson and says, "Hey Duke, it's late, I'm turnin' into a pumpkin."

Overall, you could probably live a life and never have seen this movie. It has some moments that make you wish otherwise, and certainly if you want to mark and celebrate the beginning of CW's illustrious career, sure, but no, in the end it does not succeed as a great film. The pacing is slow, the characters (with the obvious exception of CW) are shallow and unlikable and the ending is unsatisfying. It doesn't matter what happens because nobody wins; not them, the cops nor us. It is a tragedy cloaked in a caper, stuffed with bugs and convinced it is a comedy.

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