(We had no idea that the Elmore Leonard-based movie Life of Crime even existed, much less that it would be released in US cinemas today. Completely unbidden or solicited, our UK-based friend Rohan Morbey, who blogs at Stop Thinking For Yourself, offered us his review. This unheard-of confluence of events must be heeded, so please enjoy Rohan's review below, and follow him on Twitter!)
Life Of Crime, based on one of legendary author Elmore Leonard’s great collection of novels, ‘The Switch’ reminds us of that period in the 90s when adaptations of his work were effortlessly hip and cool. Get Shorty, Out Of Sight, and Jackie Brown, made by three very talented directors each with a style of their own opened up Leonard’s work to a whole new generation. But there is a gulf in class between those films and Life of Crime.
The story begins promisingly, like a cool version of Ruthless People (yes, I’m referring to the 1986 Danny De Vito comedy) where a wife (Jennifer Aniston) is kidnapped but the husband won’t pay the million dollar ransom because he hates her, wants a divorce, and has a younger mistress on the side. So far, so good as all the familiar Elmore Leonard characteristics are in play: double crosses, characters who’ll do anything for a fast buck, and even a reappearance of Ordell Robbie (played with far less authority by Mos Def than Samuel L Jackson had back in 1997). But as the film enters the final 30 minutes, the stakes never feel as though they are raised and the film gets slightly stale as the inevitable Jennifer-Aniston-can’t-die and Tim-Robbins-must-suffer plot lines fall into place. Again, this isn’t an issue unique to Life Of Crime, but the leads up to events is just too rudimentary in its execution to have its audience truly involved.
As clear sign of director Daniel Schechter’s attempts to make the film into something far more cinematic and impressive is a constant use of source music from the period it is set, 1978. The songs are great but they are in service of a false atmosphere and time reconstruction for the film never once feels like it is taking place in the late 70s, and it merely looks like stars playing dress up. This is an increasingly frustrating trend with modern films which attempt a period setting but don’t pull it off convincingly, using music and costume to masquerade as period; American Hustle, Blood Ties, and Lovelace are all guilty as charged.
That’s not to say Life Of Crime isn’t enjoyable by the very nature of it being an Elmore Leonard adaptation, but one can’t help but be slightly perturbed by how minor the film is; it’s a minor Leonard adaptation, it’s a minor work for all actors involved, and it’s a minor release in the 2014 calendar. The film never really feels made for the cinema screen, despite some well known faces selling it, but as a rental (as opposed to paying £10/$12 to see it in cinemas) it won’t disappoint so long as you’re not expecting anything near Steven Soderbergh quality.