The latest feature length film from the busiest filmmaker in Phoenix, Travis Mills, premiered last Friday, August 30th at the Tempe Pollack Cinema. The third feature film by Mills is quite an accomplishment, considering that while this film was being made, Mills was simultaneously chipping away at creating 52 short films in 52 weeks, while still participating in several local 48 hour film challenges. Shot in only eight days, 'Bank’ is inspired by the 1968 film “The Split,” and tells the story of five men who have just completed a bank robbery and must now wait patiently in their hideout to split the money with the robbery ringleader and planner, who is expected to show up anytime within five hours. The agony of anticipation becomes too much for the thieves, who quickly loose whatever shred of honor and civility they may have had going into the heist. All of the actors in the film use their real first names; their parts having been written specifically for them by director Mills.
As the robbers enter their hideout, their back stories are detailed bit-by-bit in flashbacks, gradually revealing the origins of their involvement in the holdup: One crook is a cop whose waiting for the bust, one’s a gay safecracker the others do not trust. One is a new guy, he just wants his share, another one sits silently, playing solitaire. The fifth one owes the mob money, or his legs they’re gonna break. He just wants this over with, so he can grab his take. But nothing gets divvied and nothing gets split, until the boss arrives so all they can do is sit. With nerves a-flarin’ and battles for power, they’ll have to get along for at least 5 hours.
With no soundtrack at all and only a series of mostly bleak interior shots for the entire film, Mills has deliberately set out to create his own low budget Playhouse-90 for his loyal cast and crew. Crafting an environment and dialog tailored specifically to each individual performer, Mills provides a milieu for each actor to shine, eliminating any possible distraction from their performance. Mills has slapped together the ideal acting vehicle for his friends and favorites, and each takes a turn at the wheel with confidence. But the windows on the bus are blacked out and the cruise control set in the safe and sensible single digits. Along the way the actors encounter nary a twist, turn or mild pothole to set them even slightly off course. It is difficult to describe the varied and outstanding performances in ‘Bank’ without a few inadvertent spoilers and so fair warning that the rest of this review contains a SPOILER ALERT.
Michael Hanelin (Michael) is mainly the central character of the film: an undercover cop going along with the heist until the very end and the ultimate big bust. Hanelin is a joy to watch on screen (as always), consistently delivering just the right confidence and sincerity. Hanelin plays it safe in pretty much every Mills movie, yet always seems to bring just a little something new to each role. Stacie Stoker (Stacie) is excellent as the alpha-female ringleader, never betraying the slightest hint of intimidation amongst the male members of the robbery crew and bringing to the screen an unlikely sympathetic character; believably tough and fearless yet still a woman who would like to leave it all behind for a shot at love and a normal life. Rob Edwards (Bobby) does nothing new with his role as the beleaguered bank robber/veteran being threatened by the mob, delivering a bromidic recycle of his previous performance in “The Detectives Lover” even going so far as to constantly refer to the younger cast members as “kid.” The extremely talented Jonathan Medina (Johnny) is squandered, as he remains silent throughout most of the film, playing solitaire. When it comes to handing out the serious props for this film, it is an even split (so to peak) between Mr. Frank Gonzalez (Frank) and James Leatherman (James). Gonzalez tipped the scale for me for his ability to truly develop his character as the film progressed. In a relationship with the boss lady, his strength and anger build solely by the unpleasant remarks the other thieves make about his new girlfriend. He wants to defend her but can’t. More notably, he desires her more than the money. Leatherman is excellent as both a tragic and truculent character; bullied his entire life for being gay and now stuck in a room with crooks that rib him for his lackluster safecracking skills. Everything sets him off, spending nearly the first half of the film searching for a can opener, then keeping track of Bobby’s gastrointestinal future. Without his performance, the others would have nothing, and without his character, the film would be relegated to the cruel experiment genre of film that I end up sitting through much of the time.
‘Bank’ is a watchable film for the most part, but the caveat is knowing that one must view this in full appreciation of the actors, as the story and scenery notably present in every other Mills film are conspicuously absent in this one. The performances are superb, but the acting is the only interest you’ll earn when you put your money in this ‘Bank.’ The absurd, cookie cutter conflict at the beginning (all guns and phones on the table, only harsh words and accusations from now on because its “good practice”) started my eyes rolling and nearly locked them in the up position, while the diaphanous denouement that I guess was the ending left me with little more than a long, wet walk back to my car.
“The Men Who Robbed The Bank” will certainly make you appreciate the incredible acting talent we have right here in Arizona and provides a good catalyst to catch every other creation by Travis Mills and Running Wild Films.
Final Take – Insufficient funds.