A blackmail plot goes way off of the rails.
Sometimes solid performances and a few good added twists can elevate an old set-up back into interesting territory. This movie could have fallen on its face, because a lot of the elements are old tropes reheated, but giving Don Cheadle and Benicio Del Toro the lead and having a cast full of excellent supporting characters really manage to keep this film thoroughly enjoyable. It helps that Soderbergh’s pacing is pretty tight, moving from one source of tension to another without making it unbearable on the viewer.
Curt Goynes (Don Cheadle) is an ex-convict who is desperate for cash. He is contacted by mob recruiter Doug Jones (Brendan Fraser) and agrees to help babysit a family as part of a blackmail scheme. He’s joined by fellow crooks Ronald and Charley (Benicio del Toro and Kieran Culkin) and they break into the house of accountant Matt Wertz (David Harbour). They hold Matt’s wife, Mary (Amy Seimetz), and his children hostage while forcing him to get a copy of a document for the mob boss Frank Capelli (Ray Liotta). When Matt returns, without the real document due to it being removed, Charley decides to execute the family and Matt, but Curt shoots him in the head to prevent a massacre. Now Ronald and Curt are both wanted by the mob and the police, but they both decide to try and steal the real document and use it to buy their freedom.
This movie has just the right number of moving parts introduced at just the right times, because as the plot builds, it ends up having a large number of characters and subplots colliding but you never really feel lost. It helps that, by having so many talented supporting cast members, the characters are more memorable. Aside from those listed above, other supporting characters are played by Jon Hamm, Bill Duke, Matt Damon, and Julia Fox, all of whom keep you focused on their actions better than expected. The film also keeps the focus on the fact that Curt and Ronald are at the mercy of any number of people, because anyone can want to turn them in for a reward. In a way it changes the heist film formula from being two parts getting in to one part getting out and instead makes most of the plot about getting away with the goods. Thankfully, Soderbergh is very used to these types of films and can handle this shift in the structure.
Overall, good movie if you like crime films.
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