Oct 21, 2022
By Greg Hyde
It is relatively easy to take a true story of a career robber and portray them in a comedy thriller as a flawed but ultimately lovable ne’er-do-well. It is quite a bit harder to do this and not end up humanizing them to such an extent that the finished film feels like a distasteful glorification of someone who made their living from traumatizing people. David Green’s 1988 UK smash Buster is perhaps the ultimate example of a true crime film that failed in the latter respect. Allan Ungar manages to do a reasonable job of avoiding such pitfalls with his new film, Bandit.
The film tells the true story of Gilbert Galvan Jr (Josh Duhamel), a man who flees a Michigan prison for Ottawa in 1984 and is able to rob 59 banks and jewelry stores across Canada during the following four years (under the assumed name Robert Whiteman) by disguising himself as an innocent bystander whilst on the premises and leaving unnoticed as the police arrive. He finds romance with homeless shelter manager Andrea Hudson (Elisha Cuthbert), but her relatively conventional morals and work ethic mean he has to conceal his criminal activities from her. Galvan’s life is further complicated when he begins a working relationship with prolific local fence Tommy Kay (Mel Gibson), and detective John Snydes (Nestor Carbonell) forms a task force dedicated to apprehending him.
Oddly, considering its story takes place mostly in Canada, Bandit is set against a backdrop of Reaganomics in the U.S. and the concomitant interest rate increases that led to foreclosed homes. The way in which this socio-economic context is mentioned prominently and repeatedly in both background news reports and dialogue between characters is clearly intended to make the audience sympathetic to a character who is mainly victimizing institutions who are victimizing everybody else, and it works, for the most part. The film seems to be suggesting that Galvan was a product of the Reaganite environment in which he operated, and as is often the case with films of this type, the anti-hero is portrayed as operating in accordance with a self-directed moral code that one suspects they did not abide by in real life.
What is more key to Galvan’s likeability as a protagonist, however, is the way in which Duhamel imbues his performance as him with a roguish charm. Cuthbert’s performance also renders Hudson as a hugely sympathetic character, and whilst Gibson’s ongoing ability to get acting work does refute the supposed ubiquity of ‘cancel culture,’ he is undeniably well-cast here as a callous, violent, implicitly racist and homophobic thug.
Ultimately, Bandit works well as a piece of lightweight entertainment that has clearly taken quite a bit of artistic license with the real-life events upon which it is based. Whilst the insertion into the action of sub-David O Russell captions like ‘This actually happened’ feels jarring and cheesy, there are still a decent number of funny moments, such as Galvan having to ask the assistant manager of a bank he’s robbing for a swag bag because he’s forgotten to bring his own. Ungar maintains a brisk narrative pace that belies the film’s 126-minute running time, and his work is anchored by strong performances from Duhamel, Cuthbert, and Gibson. It’s not going to be gracing any year-end lists or getting nominated for any awards, but Bandit works well as a straightforward, enjoyable piece of storytelling. (www.quiverdistribution.com)
Author rating: 7/10
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