The Maiden Heist
Peter Hewitt directed the film, and he gave us...errmmm...Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, The Borrowers, and a bunch of other films. Oh okay, like Thunderpants and Garfield. Happy now? That wasn't any of the reasons for watching the film.
Well that was a hell of a mixed bag, but the plot and the lead actors were the factors that sucked me into the film, and despite a mishandling of the plot late on, for the most part it was good.
Roger's wife is desperate for them to leave to Miami, somewhere hot to retire too, but he just can't give up his daily security guard work which brings him close to his beloved painting.
Then one day they hear that the whole gallery is to be reworked and the exhibits changed for more modern and attractive displays and they discover that their pieces have been sold to a gallery in Copenhagen. They are all distraught, and the love for The Maiden brings Roger to hatch a plan, a plan to steal their works of art so that they can save them from being sent to Copenhagen and see them whenever they want.
It's a crazy, far fetched plan, but they just might pull it off.
First up I have to say that the casting of the three leads is inspired. Christopher Walken is perhaps the last person you would have thought to cast in this role as he's far from his trademark stares and under the surface aggression. In fact in this film he's playing a real, down to earth, average guy who has a little bit of a dream.
Another lead has a few traits about his character that surprise you about their casting, Morgan Freeman playing the effeminate and rather light headed character is just superb, and both he and Walken underplay their roles, stepping back from their usual forthright performances.
William H. Macy is perhaps the closest to being cast in a similar role as we've seen him before, however that's no bad thing for he plays the slightly nervous, possibly ex-military character perfectly and underpins the latter half of the film. He doesn't sit back and let the other two actors hog the glory either, he has some hilarious moments and his character provides for some great set-ups.
For quite a bit of the film the enjoyment is seeing the three of them play off of each other and seemingly revel in doing so, something that I certainly felt most during their training sequences.
However excellent Christopher Walken is in his role, and he really is, for me it's the part played by Morgan Freeman that kept capturing me, mainly because it does seem so distant to anything we've seen from him before and there does feel as though there's a level of fun being had between the actor and the role beyond that of the script.
The film opens very strongly with Walken in a scene that takes you into the imagination of his character and helps set-up his state of mind for the rest of the story. It's a fun sequence that brings a wry smile to the face and really lets you enjoy the moment as much as the character seems to be doing, and what I found particularly effective about it is it took me right to the character and bonded us by sharing his moment of Die Hard-ish fantasy.
The whole idea for the film is a good one, the three elderly art worshippers desperate to save the works of art that they've fallen in love with by stealing them, and while some of the film might seem to tread familiar, it's these three characters and their situations that make it so different.
The development of the characters and their stories in the beginning of the film is carried from the script to screen well. Watching Walken and Freeman was a delight, and seeing Marcia Gay Harden and Walken together with Walken taking the hen pecked role provided some excellently ironic and funny moments. She played his rather dominating wife, and as a couple they gelled well with Harden taking the lead and pushing him into decisions he didn't really want to take.
One part of the story I really liked was the whole thread about the trip to Miami. She was saving for the holiday with the tips from her job that she counted into her jar each night, and he never really wants to go, preferring instead to stay with his painting, or when the heist is planned, to steal the painting and use her holiday money to help set-up the plan. Watching how uncomfortable he is around her as he tries to avoid any confrontation about not going to Miami, and then the horror as he's trapped in a corner when she comes to work to ask his boss for time off for the trip is priceless. The scenes they share together are a lot of fun and add plenty to the overall enjoyment of the film.
Another strong scene was during the planning of the heist when the seemingly odd decision was taken to use stop motion filming to capture the proposed plans. It seems rather out of sorts with the rest of the film to begin with, but turns out to be a very amusing few scenes which deliver the planning stage of a heist story in a rather different and effective way.
It's not all good though. The storyline with the wife is built up so it does begin to feel like a little bit of a battle between the two, and the feeling is that it's going to come down to Miami and her or the secret heist, but it's just dropped, the whole plot just dumped. I couldn't figure out why he was just going on with things and the whole domestic battle forgotten about halfway through the film.
It does come back though, but it's well on in the film and that's when you realise how they resolved the battle, even if we don't get to see how it happened. It works out well but it just doesn't flow with the story and does leave you hanging in the middle, wondering why the plot has been lost.
Before she arrives back in the story the heist itself is going really well, a complicated scenario with each a part to play and some nice tension building moments. Some things going wrong and some complete panics, and then the big twist in the tale that turns everything on its head.
Yet this is when things start to go downhill too. The heist falls on clichés and really breaks down the believability of the story at a key moment. When the whole, carefully planned heist has been running for most of the film and things go wrong, you would expect that the film doesn't just abandon all the work it's done to this point, but it does.
When the whole heist goes down the drain Walken's character, dressed in his holiday clothes, just steps up, walks past security guards, straight into the area where all the securely guarded items are held and begins to talk with one of the men receiving the goods. The guards do nothing, just watch him as he talks to the guy and over a rather elongated few scenes, wins the man over by just talking to him, and seemingly negates the whole heist.
At this moment I really wondered why we had just gone through the rest of the film and built up this complex and amusing heist, just to have it totally foiled and then re-stolen with just a few scenes of character discussion. All the hard work that the film invested in building up the strong heist scenario just seems to have been dropped with the handling of this plot turn.
The ending of the film does recover some of the light hearted and amusing feel to it and deliver a nicely thought through moment when Walken's character is finally on holiday with his wife. This sequence ties in nicely to the when he arrives back home to sit down in front of the painting that is now finally his to admire. Add on an amusing closing moment at the Copenhagen museum and the film comes to a close which has regained a little of what it threw away.
The film does start out well, funny and engaging with the three leads performing well in some unusual roles. It's really enjoyable and when the heist begins there's a good feeling that comes from the film and it does draw on some of that old British comedy, and it works well. Then, after all the work that's been done on the heist and building up the tension, it's lost by the main character effectively just asking for the big prize, and getting it. I did feel let down by this moment.
However the film does attempt to pick up the fumble and bring back the heart of the story, even if the heist part has gone. It does deliver a nicely imagined ending that ties up the story of the love affair with the painting and begins someone else's story.
With strong direction, good scripting for the most part, and some excellent casting, The Maiden Heist does turn out to be an enjoyable light hearted film, it just could have been a lot better.