THE TAKE (2016)
Director: James Watkins
Cast: Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte Le Bon, Kelly Reilly, José Garcia, Thierry Godard, Vincent Londez, Arieh Worthalter
MPAA Rating: (for violence, language and some nudity)
Running Time: 1:32
Release Date: 11/18/16 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | November 17, 2016
The Take is a strange beast. It would be misleading to say that it's a "good" movie. Its screenplay is cobbled together from the plot elements and clichéd dialogue that will be familiar to anyone who has seen a thriller of this sort. The movie jumps from one plot concept to another, just as the previous one seemed to have some kind of potential. Even when it hits a unique note, the screenplay by Andrew Baldwin and James Watkins settles for routine—a chase here, a fight there, and a big shootout to finish off the whole thing.
The best way to approach this movie is to go into it with the expectation that it is clichéd, silly, overblown yet underdeveloped, and prone to making logical and narrative leaps. Take it with a sense of appreciation for the wild moves it occasionally makes and with a sense of humor for the multitude of obvious ones for which it settles. In other words, prepare to be equal parts bemused and amused.
The first plot thread involves Michael Mason (Richard Madden), an American expatriate living in Paris as a fugitive from the law back in the States. He's a master pickpocket, who shows off his skills in the opening scene by distracting a busy crowd with a naked woman and proceeding to lift various items of value from among them. After the fact, the woman seems interested in spending more time with him on a personal level. He is for himself and himself only, so he unceremoniously dumps her as the doors to the subway car that they're in are closing.
Meanwhile, Zoe (Charlotte Le Bon) and Jean (Arieh Worthalter) are preparing for the final steps of a planned terrorist attack on headquarters of a right-wing nationalist political party. She changes her mind when she arrives, after noticing that there's still a cleaning crew present in the office, and just as she has decided to throw the explosive-filled teddy bear in the river, the bag with the stuffed animal disappears.
Of course, Michael swiped the bag, and of course, he assumes there's nothing worthwhile in it after giving it a look. He tosses the bag in a pile of garbage in a plaza, and as he walks away, the device detonates, killing four people. Because of closed-circuit cameras in the area, Michael is now suspected as the bomber.
Thus, the story begins as a morally confounding take on the "wrong man" premise. It's unlikely that Michael, who had no idea what was actually in the bag, has any legal accountability for the explosion, except for leaving the scene. How, though, can he possibly respond to the moral question of guilt—of being indirectly responsible for the senseless deaths of four people?
It's a tough question and one filled with dramatic possibilities. The dismissal of such concerns—and, indeed, the entire premise of Michael as the wrong man being hunted—serves as the first, concrete example of how willing Baldwin and Watkins are of shifting gears (or being unable to maintain a consistent story, depending on one's perspective).
The next narrative idea involves Michael teaming up with a CIA agent named Sean Briar (Idris Elba, whose performance amounts to a really good audition reel to play a more famous spy). Obviously, Sean's credentials are read off of his personnel file in his introductory scene. In case one needed the reassurance, yes, his qualities include being reckless and insubordinate—with his being unsympathetic toward "human assets" tossed in as a bonus. Almost confirming the idea that the screenwriters are fully aware of how ridiculously obvious such overused scenes are, there's a later scene in which Michael and Sean each recite the other's character flaws from their respective files.
It's important to stipulate that it almost seems as if the movie is aware of its silliness. There are times when it seems obvious (Sean clotheslines Michael off a motorcycle to bring an abrupt end to an effective, multileveled chase, and at one point, he punches through the glass of a cop's helmet), and there are others when it doesn't.
After a lot of unfolding and double-crosses, the center point of the plot eventually reveals itself to be an elaborate, highly orchestrated bank robbery. The hook is how the team of bad guys goes about setting up conditions so that they can rob the bank. Basically, they have decided to rile up civil unrest between rival political factions and cultural groups. Get the hardline right-wingers mad at Muslim citizens and immigrants, and that will unleash the righteous anger of anti-fascist organizations and online activists on social media. The climactic shootout is intercut with Michael and Zoe trying to navigate the chaos of a massive protest on Bastille Day.
One could argue that using the political divisiveness of our modern era as the backdrop for a thriller is either timely or exploitative. Either way, the setup allows the main villain to offer—without a trace of irony and loads of authority—the following order to one of his henchman: "Send out the final hashtag."
No matter what the film's treatment of these political undertones may be, that's funny, and it's the sort of clever/unintentional comedy that runs through The Take. No, this is not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination. It is, though, a strangely enjoyable and ultimately satisfying one.
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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