Sneaky petes

11 12 2009

I love caper flicks.

It’s where the little guy gets over, sneakiness wins over force, and wits—sometimes matched, sometimes overmatched—trump all.

There’s a definitional issue, here (of course): Do caper flicks have to be light? How much heaviness can creep in? Is there such a thing as a heavy caper flick?

I tend toward the lightness (or fleetness) aspect of capers, with just enough heaviness to anchor the thrill of the exploits.

Have you watched Hopscotch? It’s an old film (available thru Netflix streaming), about a CIA man about to be shackled to a desk who decides instead to get out; the trouble begins when he’s prompted (by his KGB counterpart, natch) to write his memoirs—about his spy work. It stars Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson (both delicious), with the perfect Ned Beatty in the role of the Nixonian spy chief, and beautiful and young Sam Waterston as Matthau’s protege and would-be captor.

Complete fluff. Oh, that it’s about the dirty deeds of the CIA and the desire of both the CIA and the KGB to stop him from revealing those deeds serves mainly to underline the glee with which Matthau consistently baits the poobahs, and watches as they respond exactly as predicted. There’s a bit of a bump at the end, but it ends as all caper flicks must, with a win.

This, by the way, was a problem with Duplicity, with Clive Owen & Julia Roberts. I should have enjoyed it more than I did, since it’s basically a double-/triple-/quadruple-cross about consumer-products business secrets. An opening sequence with Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson trying to beat each other up as their horrified associates look on sets the appropriately absurdist tone.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t maintain that tone, and darkens inappropriately. It’s about consumer products, for chrisssakes! And the ending does not satisfy.

Ocean’s 11 satisfies. A fine ensemble piece, laced with a bit of melancholy (which you know will lift by the end), and with a ludicrous premise with equally ludicrous stakes. The best scene? When Matt Damon racially insults the late, great Bernie Mac in a performance which just possible echoes one of the best scenes in SNL history: when Chevy Chase (I think) psychologically interviews Richard Pryor, using increasingly racially-charged word-association.

No, no one can compete with Richard Pryor, but still: even an echo is great.

Ocean’s 12 was okay (my favorite scene in that? When Matt Damon’s mom, the fabulous Cherry Jones, springs the crew from the police). Haven’t seen Ocean’s 13.

The Thomas Crown Affair with Pierce Brosnan, Denis Leary, and, crap, whatshername, was fine—the scene near the end, with all the men in bowler caps, was terrific—but I’m not a huge fan of the (younger) Brosnan. And I haven’t seen the original, with Steve McQueen, so I don’t know how it compares.

The movie which really cemented my love for capers, however, was Sneakers (great score by Brandon Marsalis, by the way). It features Robert Redford, Mary McConnell, Sidney Poitier, David Straithairn, River Phoenix, with Ben Kingsley and James Earl Jones appearing near the end; the set up is  that of a second-rate security firm, headed by Redford, hired to retrieve a global decryption device. This bit of hardware, in other words, would allow one to penetrate every electronics system in the world—no secrets.

It’s a bit darker than some other caper films—at least one guy is murdered—but the ensemble is a delight, with the frictions and affections between them applying much of the fizz. Great scene? Straithairn’s character, who is blind, drives a truck off-road and down a hill to save the day. He is appropriately terrified and exhilarated.

Would Inside Man count as a caper flick? I think not, as the crime-film aspects overshadows all, but the caperesque aspects of the film are precisely what make it so delightful.

The various Bourne movies are definitely not capers: too dark, too violent, too little humor. Still, the catch-me-if-you-can aspect. . .

. . .Catch Me If You Can. Forgot about that one, probably because I haven’t seen it. A caper, right?

See, I’m stuck because while I love this genre, I can’t think of that many films which fit. The Sting—of course. There has to be more.

There has to be ‘something more’. . . !


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3 responses

14 12 2009
geekhiker

“Sneakers”! Wow, I don’t think I’ve seen that since college. Hmmm… I should add it to the ‘ol Netflix queue…

14 12 2009
absurdbeats

It streams! (I just put it in my Instant Queue.)

30 11 2013
Chain of fools | AbsurdBeats

[…] And capers! It’s a caper show! Yay capers! […]

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