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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Cate Blanchett Steals BANDITS
by Betty Jo Tucker

A skilled pickpocket lifts wallets without his victims even knowing they’ve been hit. Playing Cate Blanchett’s bank-robbing co-stars in Bandits, Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton become victims of another kind. The versatile actress steals this comedy right from under their noses. As a disillusioned housewife on the run with two escaped convicts, she delivers the most colorful performance of her illustrious career.

With fiery red hair flowing, Blanchett (Oscar-nominee for Elizabeth) dances wildly while preparing a gourmet meal for her lucky husband during the first part of the film. "This is a vibrant, happy woman," I thought to myself. When her unappreciative spouse refused the meal and left their house, I wanted to punch him out myself. Later, sniffling and singing along with the car radio as she drives to who knows where, Blanchett’s disappointment seemed so real, I couldn’t help feeling sad too. Those big mascara-smeared eyes and heartbreaking sobs really got to me.

Then all of a sudden, thud! Her car runs into Thornton (A Simple Plan), and this accident changes her life forever. Thornton is one of "The Sleepover Bandits," two fugitives hoping a final string of scores will finance their South-of-the-Border retirement dream. He and partner Willis (Disney’s The Kid) are famous for taking the bank manager and his family hostage the night before a heist, having dinner, and staying over, then going into the bank with him in the morning before business hours so that no break-in is necessary. The men are also known for their courtesy and lack of violence.

After joining the bandits on their cross-country spree, Blanchett’s character develops an attraction for both men. Not surprisingly, the guys fall for her too. With the irresistible Willis, Blanchett is daring and romantic --- dancing on the beach, bonding through haiku lyrics, and imitating Claudette Colbert (in It Happened One Night). With Thornton, a rigid hypochondriac, she’s motherly and caring. Who will she choose? That question evoked greater suspense for me than whether or not the robbers would get away with their crimes. But I have to admit that Bandits, like The Score, made me feel guilty for sympathizing with lawbreakers. I agree with one of the film’s bank mangers when she declared, "Good manners are no excuse for criminal behavior."

Producer Michael Birnbaum recognizes the character-driven nature of this caper flick. "The story was conceived as being about a man of action and a man of thought and the woman that comes between them," he says. "She has to make the classic choice between the thinker and the doer. Willis plays this incredibly handsome guy who doesn’t really have to think before he acts but always ends up doing the right thing. Thornton portrays a brilliant but neurotic man who can’t take a step without a plan. He has to know exactly what’s going to happen and how it’s going to happen before he can take action. There’s a great juxtaposition between these two men. They’re two halves of a great person."

Willis and Thornton are well-cast in these opposite roles. Both actors excel at comedy as well as drama, and Bandits requires a little of each. Clad in outrageous disguises, they made me laugh out loud more than once. I especially enjoyed those ridiculous wigs. And, their growing emotional attachment to Blanchett seemed quite genuine to me. Still, Bandits belongs to Blanchett. It would be a crime if her delightful performance is ignored when awards season rolls around again.

(Released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and rated "PG-13" for some sexual content, language, and violence.)

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