If you haven’t seen the film that’s tickling the critics, then I’ll recommend it. It’s suspenseful, dramatic, scenic, hilarious, well-written, and the dialogue is really, really good. If you live or are familiar with the Eastern part of New Mexico, then you’ll get a kick just looking for landmarks and familiar locations. (It was filmed, in large part, in Clovis and Portales, NM. Where I happen to live. So, I can happily point out a lot of the shooting locations.)
Overall, I think it really is a good movie. It looks good, the acting is good, the dialogue is good, and the story is smart (all things considered.)
Here’s the trailer if you want a peek or a reminder:
Now, if your ready, let’s get into the meat of the movie. [SPOILERS]
It starts off in medias res with our boys robbing a small *ahem* West Texas bank branch. The film doesn’t baby the audience with lead-up, exposition, or *cringe* narration. Nope, turn your brains on and get ready to figure it out as we go along. I think it was an excellent way to begin the film. More robbery follows, we get an impression of the boys as reluctant (but competent thieves), and our first laugh-out-loud joke that hits the whole theater. I won’t spoil it, but it’s a winning combination of political incorrectness and regionally authentic truth. Like it or hate it, it’s real. It’s the first in a line of local-civilian one-liners that are gold. It is also the first scene with a civilian carrying a gun. (A recurring theme throughout the movie that is both handled well and badly at the same time.)
So let’s just get to it. The way armed citizens are portrayed and used in this movie is worth talking about. I think that up to a certain point it is handled as well as I’d ever expect Hollywood to handle it, but at a certain point, the realism is sacrificed for the sake of the plot. I think there may also be a level of attempted satirization of the concept that I can’t decide if is ingeniously low-key, or just awkwardly added on top. Based on Hollywood’s abysmal record of accurate firearm portrayals, I’m inclined to suspect that the parts they got right were due more to ignorance than intent. I’d love to be wrong, but if anything describes the firearm/armed-citizen characterization in this movie, it’s inconsistency.
We encounter no less than two customer’s carrying concealed weapons inside a bank. The first is an old man in the second bank. He’s the only customer, is caught by surprise and when asked if his is carrying, responds along the lines of: “Damn right I got a gun on me.” He reasonably allows himself to be disarmed because he was already at the mercy of the thieves. I think that scene is done okay. I know that guy. He’s no gunslinger, but damn right he’s got a gun. Always has.
The second encounter with an armed hostage goes a bit differently and it has way more issues. Long story short, bigger bank, many customers, one guy pulls out his gun. Up to that point, it’s okay. He seems to be waiting for the right time, watching the position of the baddies, and then makes his move. Trouble is, his move was notably incompetent. Gun sideways, blind-firing, bent arm, and apparently accuracy is something he’s never heard of. This, above all is the most blatant issue with the firearms in the film. I think two shots are portrayed to be accurate out of hundreds of bullets fired and both of those were almost superhumanly accurate.
Anyway, this responsible citizen dies of incompetence and the boys escape the bank to be met by half a dozen of his fellow responsible citizens who shoot more than a few bullets but cannot seem to take down two fellows afoot from inside 25 yards. This is when I started to get a little peeved. They realistically portrayed West Texas (or Eastern New Mexico) as being a populated by a lot of armed citizens. But, of course, the movie would have been over had anyone been aware of how to use the little notches on top often referred to as “sights.” So, I see where they just wanted the story to keep going, but I also have to tell the writers that this is also where the gritty realism became something more ridiculous.
Back to accuracy. I’ll admit that I know some guys who aren’t crack shots. But even a broken clock is right every three or four shots. I know that statistics can be bandied about saying that even cops can’t hit the mark at ten feet most of the time. But this is supposed to be West Texas, folks. Yeah, lots of folks are armed. Yeah, some of them are less skilled than other. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I also want to explain something special about people who learn to shoot on the plains. Our perception of difficulty/distance is a bit skewed. We think 200 yards is an easy shot with a rifle. 25 yards is bullseye range with a pistol and I’ll take a shot at anything out to 200 with pretty much any gun I own. The odds of six (or however many there were) guys all missing as much as they did in that movie is just out there too far for me to accept.
I could go on about this, but let’s just talk about the next scene. The hapless fellows who apparently all grossly de-aligned their sights the night before, get in their *ahem* “trucks” and follow the thieves on the highway out of town. This, again is actually quite feasible, no not-getting-involved bystanders here. So, that’s real, then the writers must have realized that once again, the protagonist thieves would be stopped and the movie would be over too soon. Oops.
So how do they write themselves out of this corner? The ballsy brother stops the getaway car, gets out, gets his AR, walks out into the middle of the highway, puts the rifle on his hip, and wildly sprays the pursuing Samaritans with bullets. Again, assuming any of these guys has ever held a gun before, they could wait for his clearly pointless barrage to stop due to ammunition exhaustion, and then shoot him. But no, they wait for him to run through three mags, stop, and they all get in their vehicles and drive away. Previous fudging of reality is nothing compared to this. One guy, in the open, not aiming, out of bullets, is not going to make them all run away. This was when the movie lost my attention and I just started waiting for the next stupid thing to happen. In my mind, this was the end of the movie and the rest was a dying thief’s hopeful hallucination.
Okay, I’m gonna stop now. I won’t elaborate on how the baddie with a bolt-action rifle on the small ridge seems to befuddle a dozen law enforcement officers with ARs, especially seeing as how he shoot from an unsteady offhand and is wearing a bright red shirt. Or how he can douse his arm in gasoline, light a gassy rag in his hand, and somehow only the rag bursts into flame.
But I think it’s a good movie. And I mean it. I picked the hole that I felt needed picking, but it’s an enjoyable film. Like I said, the essentials are all there. Acting, writing, pacing, suspense, visuals, dialogue, humor, characters. I’ll be watching it many times (for various reasons) and I’ll recommend it to pretty much anyone who needs a good movie to watch. But I’ll always have a choked laugh or a snort at the incredulous moments that just don’t quite work.
On the bright side, I think that any aspiring bank-robbers that try to emulate the movie’s premise will be a bit less successful if they run into that many CHL holders on their escapades. Writers can’t rescue you from real bullets.