19th Jun2014

‘The Art of the Steal’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Kurt Russell, Matt Dillon, Jay Baruchel, Chris Diamantopoulos, Katheryn Winnick, Kenneth Welsh, Jason Jones, Terence Stamp | Written and Directed by Jonathan Sobol

Art-Steal-cast

I love a good heist (or caper) movie, of course as do many others out there, just look at the success of the “Oceans” franchise and the recent Now You See Me but my love does not end at the mainstream, I really love discovering hidden gems of the genre – films like Flypaper, How to Rob a Bank and The Perfect Score – so when I saw The Art of the Steal pop up on Amazon.com I knew it was a film I had to check out. Even more so considering it stars the legend that is Kurt Russell alongside the always awesome Jay Baruchel. So, thinking this is the type of under-the-radar flick that I’d dig (and that wouldn’t see the light of day here in the UK for quite some time), I placed an order for the DVD… Who knew that only a short while later the film would be announced for a UK cinema release this very week?

The film tells the story of Crunch Calhoun (Russell), a third rate motorcycle daredevil and semi-reformed art thief, who agrees to get back into the con game and pull off one final lucrative art theft with his untrustworthy brother, Nicky (Dillon). Reassembling the old team, Crunch comes up with a plan to steal a priceless historical book, but the successful heist leads to another far riskier plan devised by Nicky. They fail to realize each other’s separate agendas when their plan goes awry in this con movie about honor, revenge and the bonds of brotherhood.

Written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Jonathan Sobol (A Beginners Guide to Endings), The Art of the Steal is much like the aforementioned hidden gems of the genre – it’s all about the cast of characters rather than the actual caper, not that the heist should in any way be under estimated. After all, as with all of these types of genre flicks, the big reveal – the true heist if you will – is part and parcel of the story. Interestingly, Sobol’s film plays with conventions of the genre, he and his cast of characters know this film is typical of the genre – you could say this is the Scream of the heist/caper movie, there’s a knowing nod to the audience throughout the film – hell, even Kurt Russell’s character Crunch discusses the stupid notion of the “last big score” and how that’s not how real life works, but then one last big score is what the film is actually all about! It’s the playfulness, the knowingness and, frankly, the sheer awesomeness of the cast which really makes The Art of the Steal rise above the flotsum of the genre.

Speaking of the cast, it’s hard not to love just about every member of Sobol’s cast of crooks – from the ever-superb Kurt Russell (who I’m sure could read a phonebook and still make it sound amazing), who manages to bring out the sadness in his art thief character whilst at the same time making Crunch cocky and self-assured like all good conmen and thieves are. Meanwhile ever-reliable Jay Baruchel plays Francie, Crunch’s best-bud, as a wide-eyed innocent, thrust into the world of art theft by his loyalty to Crunch – but like Russell, Baruchel doesn’t just make his character a one-note act, yes his character may be naive but there’s a real sense of adventure within Francie which allows the audience to connect with him and enjoy the “journey” into this particular caper with him. Russell also has a great foil in Terence Stamp’s Samuel Winter – an old ex-con who now works for Interpol in the hopes of one “last big score” (catching a fellow conman/thief) which will set him free from the shackles of interpol and back into a normal life, however normal an ex-art thief’s life can be. Winter is essentially a mirror on Crunch – older, sadder and just that little more jaded – who, when faced with the prospect of catching Crucnh and scoring his freedom, can’t help but actually be a little excited to be even a small part of what Crunch is planning.

It may not bring anything new to the heist movie but The Art of the Steal has enough going for it in terms of its superb cast, brisk pace and sheer fun factor to keep even the most jaded of genre fans amused all the way to the excellently plotted final twist and the big plot reveal. Definitely another genre gem in my book.

**** 4/5

The Art of the Steal is on limited release across the UK from June 20th.

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