Life of Crime

Genre: Drama

Director: Daniel Schechter

Writer: Daniel Schechter, based on the novel “The Switch” by Elmore Leonard

Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Mos Def (as Yasiin Bey), Isla Fisher, Will Forte, Mark Boone Junior, Tim Robbins, John Hawkes

Running Length: 99 minutes

Synopsis: Mickey (Jennifer Aniston), the wife of a corrupt real estate developer (Tim Robbins) is kidnapped by two common criminals (Yasiin Bey and John Hawkes), who intend to extort him with inside information about his crooked business and off-shore accounts. But the husband decides he’d actually rather not pay the ransom to get back his wife, setting off a sequence of double crosses and plot twists that could only come from the mind of Elmore Leonard.

Review: One can be forgiven, in the opening minutes of Life of Crime, for thinking that the projectionist had somehow played a reel of American Hustle by mistake. And indeed, the film does bear some resemblance to American Hustle, since both a crime capers set in the 70s. Life of Crime is the more low-key movie, and though the plot is sporadically entertaining, the film does not leave much of an impression by the time the credits roll.

There have been a good number of Elmore Leonard adaptations over the years, and this one sits in the middle of the pack. Having not read the source novel, I am unsure how faithful the adaptation is, but suffice to say that the plot and its twists would not be very surprising for anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of caper movies. Having said that, there are a good number of scenes which are set up quite well and the characters’ interactions are rather interesting to observe. Dialogue is also classic Elmore Leonard, which is to be expected since he was quite involved in the project prior to his death last year.

Jenifer Aniston is most known for her comedic roles, but has proven she has what it takes to be a thespian in some smaller movies. She is actually very good here, much better than I had expected, and easily becomes the emotional centre of the film. She is quite capably supported by the rest of the ensemble cast, and I actually enjoyed this ensemble more than the American Hustle posse of characters. However, the cast is less memorable than prior Leonard adaptations (a good handful come to mind – Out of Sight, Jackie Brown, Get Shorty), and although it provides light entertainment, the slightly meandering plot and relatively low energy level of the film did leave me feeling a bit underwhelmed at the end.

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)


If I Stay

Genre: Drama

Director: R. J. Cutler

Writer: Shauna Cross, based on the novel by Gayle Forman

Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Mireille Enos, Jamie Blackley, Joshua Leonard, Liana Liberato, Aisha Hinds, Stacy Keach, Lauren Lee Smith, Gabrielle Rose, Jakob Davies, Gabrielle Cerys Haslett

Running Length: 107 minutes

Synopsis: Mia Hall (Chloe Grace Moretz) thought the hardest decision she would ever face would be whether to pursue her musical dreams at Juilliard or follow a different path to be with the love of her life, Adam (Jamie Blackley).  But what should have been a carefree family drive changes everything in an instant, and now her own life hangs in the balance.  Caught between life and death for one revealing day, Mia has only one decision left, which will not only decide her future but her ultimate fate.

Review: There’s a certain familiarity that comes with YA adaptations these days – it’s almost invariably set in the perspective of the teenage girl (that is the target demographic, after all), and regardless of the quality of the movie, the soundtrack will always be quite listenable, though bordering on the mournful, emo side. If I Stay does not vary from these conventions at all, but despite the best intentions of first-time feature film director Cutler (who had previously cut his teeth on documentaries) and the concerted thespian effort of Chloe Grace Moretz, the film comes across as being just a hair too manipulative and mawkish to earn a solid recommendation.

The narrative structure deviates from the norm – although it starts with a typical first person narrative, the catastrophic accident that lands Mia comatose in hospital also seems to cause an out of body experience for her, and the remainder of the film sees Mia moving about metaphysically (so to speak) in the hospital, unseen and unheard by those around her, coupled with multiple flashbacks to key moments in her life to date. This structure makes it different from most other YA adaptations, but fails to hide the fact that the story is really quite banal, with most of the flashbacks failing to resonate emotionally, despite the rather insistent efforts of the scribe. Therein lies the biggest problem of If I Stay, that it feels way too artificial, from the too-hip parents, the too-cute couple and the incessantly eloquent bon mots that seem to tumble out at will from all the characters’ mouths.

Chloe Grace Moretz is a relatively young actress (just 17 years old) but has been rather prolific of late, and her strong work in If I Stay is one of the key reasons why the film remains watchable. Setting aside the fact that Mia is way too precocious to be believable, Moretz manages to put together a nuanced performance that is far better than the source material would require. Moretz manages to outclass almost everyone in the cast, and the thespian shortcomings of Jamie Blackley in particular are unfortunately thrust into the spotlight quite regularly. If I Stay ends up being a decidedly mixed bag of offerings, a pedestrian YA adaptation that has limited appeal outside of fans of the source novel.

Rating: * * (out of four stars)