From the opening credits to the final frame, Australian director John Hillcoat’s (The Road, The Proposition) latest film grabs you by the throat and takes you on a violent, visceral thrill ride that doesn’t stop for a moment to let you catch your breath. Garnished with a mouthwatering ensemble cast consisting of contemporary Hollywood’s hottest property, this is an intense and enjoyable crime pic that calls to mind other examples of the genre such as The Town and Copland. Unfortunately, the pacing is so frantic that plot eclipses character to detrimental effect. There’s no strong central protagonist to root for and this lack of focus makes it difficult to connect with on an emotional level.
The action takes place on the gritty streets of Atlanta, opening with a jaw dropping bank robbery and chaotic highway car chase which set the tone for the rest of the film. We are soon introduced to the criminals behind the heist; a motley crew of crooked cops and ex-military men whose actions are being orchestrated by the Russian mob. Oscar nominated Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave) plays Michael Belmont, leader of the corrupt gang at the centre of the story. He is accompanied by two of the city’s dirtiest detectives, Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) and Jorge Rodriguez (Clifton Collins Jr.) along with unhinged siblings, Gabe and Russel Welch (Aaron Paul and Norman Reedus). Coerced into performing one last job for their ruthless boss Irina Vaslov (Kate Winslet), the task proves to be so complex and implausible, that only the most drastic of plans will enable them to pull it off. The tension factor is turned up a few notches when straight shooting, honest to the bone cop Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) is partnered with Marcus. Chris, under the guidance of his uncle and mentor Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson), unwittingly becomes the key factor in determining the gang’s fate.
The most notable element here is the cast. The talent on display is phenomenal, all of the performances are excellent with Affleck and Collins Jr. particularly outstanding. Their respective characters, whilst being equally motivated, determined and uncompromising, are moralistically polar opposites. It is fitting that they are both heavily involved in the hugely satisfying climatic scene. It’s a shame then that despite the great ensemble and plethora of interesting characters, none of them are quite fleshed out in a satisfactory manner. There’s very little in way of back story or enough depth assigned to the major players to make the audience care or feel invested in their narrative journey. Peripheral characters such as transgender police informant Sweet Pea, played by Michael K. Williams (Omar from The Wire) and Teresa Palmer as Chris’s wife are introduced but barely utilised. You’re ultimately left wanting more.
Hillcoat directs with intensity and panache, delivering a gripping, exciting crime caper which moves at a cracking pace. The lack of character development is definitely frustrating and diminishes the overall impact of the film. It’s still a relentlessly entertaining piece of work with many admirable qualities, but with a little more time spent fleshing out the script, this could have been great.