Dir: Brad Furman. US 2007. 96 mins.
The Take is a potentially very interesting film that suffers from a bad case of bi-polar disorder. On the one hand, a gritty, often exciting crime-and-caper movie, and on the other hand an authentic-feeling domestic drama set in one of the Latino barrios of Los Angeles, this otherwise worthy two-headed film repeatedly, and damagingly, clashes with itself.
Headliners John Leguizamo and Rosie Perez do their usual great work here, and the non-stop use of the hand-held camera, though sometimes overdone and consequently artificial-feeling, mostly keeps our attention.
But things never quite come together and the central plot focus of the family drama is never plausible enough to make for compelling cinema. Screen Gems, the US distributor of the film, is not going to be rewarded with big box-office returns and may decide to ship the film straight to DVD where, with Leguizamo and Perez's names above the title, it could do very well indeed. A theatrical release in other territories seems a long-shot, but buyers for television will find a quality product here.
The feature-film debut of Brad Furman, an NYU film school graduate mostly known for music videos, commercials, a few shorts, and several documentaries, The Take tries to do too much all at once. There's some evidence, for example, especially in brief montages at the beginning and end of the film, that Furman intended his film to provide a kind of documentation of lower-class Latino life in LA, but this goal, like others, is never fulfilled because the effort is too sporadic and half-hearted.
The film does work, for the most part, as a study of the struggles of poor-but-honest Felix Delgado (Leguizamo), his wife Marina (Perez), and their children to make it, against all odds, in a hostile social environment. But the plot elements that link this story to the caper film - Felix is a driver for an armoured truck that transports cash, and inadvertently gets caught up in a major heist - are never fully convincing, especially when suspicions are cast upon Felix himself as the inside-man who set up the robbery.
Even more damagingly, neither story establishes the requisite suspense. Worse, sympathy for the central characters is lacking as well, ultimately, since the time that should have been spent on establishing audience identification with them has to be devoted to the caper movie elements. The black characters, all but one of which is a gangster, never for a moment rise above the level of cliche.
Along with the constantly jerky camera work (the camera goes especially berserk in a scene set in a hospital emergency room), the use of music is occasionally overdone, as though the filmmakers were afraid that the excitement level provided by the crime scenes needed artificial enhancement. The violence, too, sometimes seems contrived for effect.
Leguizamo is solid, though Perez allows herself to move into unconvincing hysteria at times. A quiet, non-flashy performance by Bobby Cannavale (The Station Agent) as a sympathetic cop is memorable, and hopefully this superb actor will soon begin to get the recognition he deserves in the form of bigger roles.
Ithaka Films (US)