Sometimes messy is good and so it is with “Life of Crime.” Written and directed by Daniel Schechter and based on Elmore Leonard’s novel, “The Switch,” “Life of Crime” is fun (with one exception) from beginning to end. And the film is at its all-out best when Jennifer Aniston, John Hawkes and Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) are on the screen together.
Set in 1978 Detroit, “Life of Crime” revolves around a kidnapping that quickly goes bad. Two criminals, Ordell (Yasiin Bey) and Louis (John Hawkes) plot to kidnap Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston), the wife of wealthy and corrupt businessman, Frank (Tim Robbins), and hold her for a one-million dollar ransom. Because we meet the Dawson family before the criminals do, we are aware that all is not well in the Dawson household. Frank is a boor, a bully, drinks too much and is emotionally abusive. Even the Dawson’s son, Bo (Charlie Tahan), seems to favor his mother over his father. And who knows what is going on with the Dawson’s fellow country club member, Marshall Taylor (Will Forte). Enlisting the help of Nazi-loving, arms-dealing, Richard (Mark Boone Junior), the kidnappers’ plan is put into action when Frank leaves for Florida for a business trip and some golf. Wearing shockingly funny masks, Ordell and Louis make their way to Mickey’s home and encounter some complications during the kidnapping. Things go from bad to worse when Frank doesn’t seem all that eager to pay the ransom. He’s got more than business and golf going on. More unforeseen problems come Ordell’s and Louis’ way and how all of this is played out makes for much of the film’s fun.
The cast does Elmore Leonard (to whom “Life of Crime” is dedicated) proud. Aniston, who is also one of the film’s producers, is outstanding as the not so dumb blonde housewife who gets smarter as the film goes along. “Life of Crime” enables her to use both her comedic and dramatic skills and she makes the most of the opportunity. John Hawkes and Yasiin Bey are terrific as the kidnappers with some heart. Bey’s character is the slightly smarter of the two and Bey’s inherent charm makes him so engaging, you almost want him to succeed. Hawkes’ character might not be as smart as Bey’s, but Hawkes manages to make him quite the lovable criminal. Mark Boone Junior as the crazy Richard is fabulous. He has the film’s more violent scenes and you can’t take your eyes off of him when he is in full-berserk mode. Will Forte puts in a good turn as the “friend” who wants to be more. Some of his scenes are out-and-out funny, while others have more pathos to them and he handles them all well. Charlie Tahan, so good in “Love is Strange, has another good turn in this film. Tim Robbins is great as the unconcerned husband and Isla Fisher shines as his girlfriend on the side, Melanie.
“Life of Crime” has a wonderful original, Shaft-like score which suits the film to perfection. The 70s were not pretty times for anyone, and Anna Terrazas‘ costume designs and the film’s makeup department capture the period flawlessly. The clothes and makeup that Jennifer Aniston is forced to wear…let’s just say she suffers for her art. And outside of the hat that Hawkes wears, the men fare no better.
“Life of Crime” takes one wrong turn in the last third of the film which really feels out of place. This scene could have easily been left on the cutting room floor and no one would have missed it. Thankfully the movie quickly moves on, almost as if it realized the mistake it made and with enough time left before the film’s conclusion, one can focus on the rest of the film and forget about what took place earlier.
“Life of Crime” has a great story with actors more than ready to do it justice. The film reinforces what a great storyteller Leonard Elmore was and makes for a fun afternoon at the movies.
“Life of Crime” is in theatres and available On Demand.