Adaptations of the late Elmore Leonard novels have been successful for some time now. The high point was of course Get Shorty which opened the way for a number of other stories moving from page to screen. His style or writing and the characters he developed are always interesting and come across really well on the big screen. The latest to make the transition is Life of Crime which is adapted from the novel The Switch.
Two small time criminals (Mos Def and John Hawkes) have a plan for the big score. They have found out that property developer Frank Dawson (Tim Robbins) has a secret. He is corrupt and is amassing a fortune in off-shore accounts. Thy decide that in order to get a piece of his ill-gotten gains they will kidnap his wife Mickey (Jennifer Aniston) and demand a million dollar ransom. Things do not go according to plan after Mickey is abducted as they find that Franks is a little less than eager to get her back and has in fact filed for divorce. The men face a dilemma. What do they have to do to get their money and what to do with their captive.
On the surface tis has all the makings of a great film. The cast is impressive with the main trio of Aniston, Hawkes and Mos Def all fine actors. The film certainly looks the part and the seventies soundtrack is excellent featuring period favourites and funky interludes. So why does it not work? The answer is that the film peaks to soon.
The first thirty minutes are almost perfect. The main characters are introduced and developed quickly. Running parallel to this is the set up for the kidnap. It is fast paced, sometimes funny and a delight to watch. This culminates with the deed itself. Unfortunately that is where the interest starts to fall. The remaining hour of the movie just drags which is a real shame. Any momentum gained up the thirty minute mark is lost as the negotiation for Mickey’s release progresses.
Jennifer Aniston is good in the role of Mickey. She is convincing as the forty something wife who is in turmoil over her domestic life and her reluctance to believe that her husband is a crook. John Hawkes is a reliable screen presence and his easy-going charm comes across very well. Mos Def is also good as Ordell, a role that was previously played by Samuel L Jackson in Jackie Brown. The problem is that none of the characters really stand out. This is not the fault of the actors but of the script and the story line. It’s just feels a bit flat.
The period setting seems a bit forced as well with the costume nad make up artists going to the usual extremes to bang home that this is a Seventies film. Some obviously saw American Hustle and thought Let’s have some of that. Dodgy clothes and facial hair abounds. It just does not look natural at all. Thankfully they didn’t try to do so much with Mos Def’s character although the temptation to stick him in and afro wig and platform shoes must have been considered at one point.
This feels like a missed opportunity. Every Elmore Leonard adaptation has the potential for a cult status. With a sharper script this would have been a brilliant movie.