Criminals Ordell (Yasiin Bey – AKA Mos Def) and Louis (John Hawkes) come up with a plan to make some quick money; kidnap Mickey (Jennifer Aniston), the wife of a rich man who has made some questionable investments, then retire on the ransom money. Their plan goes awry however, when it is discovered that Frank (Tim Robbins) plans to divorce Mickey, and may not pay the ransom money.
Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard, Life of Crime feels a little like American Hustle Lite. The film centres around an elaborate crime, with those involved constantly switching sides and loyalties. The cast is a strong one, but they are let down by a script that feels at once too thin and too convoluted.
Jennifer Aniston takes a welcome step away from the toothless comedies she has been involved in of late to play Mickey, a woman in a loveless marriage who finds herself kidnapped. Aniston leaves all her quirks to one side, and allows Mickey to be a rather thin, but engaging character. Yasiin Bey plays a rather clichéd character, but one who has his own moral compass, John Hawkes is a gentler soul and brings some sympathy to this kidnap dramedy. Will Forte has a small role as a man besotted with Mickey, Tim Robbins taps into his cruel and angry side as Frank and Isla Fisher plays a scheming character – not unlike her role in The Great Gatsby – and does well with what she is given.
The cast of the film do well, but they are let down by a muddled script. We are tossed between three different points of view, and loyalties switch so often and so fast that it is hard to keep up at times. There is a feel of American Hustle about the entire affair – perhaps this is because of the temporal setting – but a thinner and less engaging version of the same. That said, the film firmly has its tongue in cheek – with one of the kidnappers being a Nazi fanatic, how could it not? – and has fun with the scattered and messy story it tells.
Director Daniel Schechter appears to rely on sets and costumes for the film’s style, and it is really only in the final moments of the movie that it comes into its own. That said, the chemistry between the couples in the film – Aniston and Hawkes, Robbins and Fisher – is engaging, and it is always fun to watch criminals turn on one another when things go wrong, even if their motivations are not always clear.
Life of Crime is a fun but slight imitation of American Hustle. The central cast struggle with how little they are given to do, but manage to keep the film moving. Aniston reminds us of her talent for drama, Hawkes shines through gently, and Robbins and Fisher make an entertaining double act. It’s just a shame that this fantastic cast is let down by an uninspiring script and lacklustre direction.