Louis (John Hawkes) and Ordell (Yasiin Bey – probably better known as Mos Def) are a pair of petty crooks whose biggest achievement to date is running a pimp over with a van in order to steal his wallet-cash and his hat – but they have big plans. They’ve found out that a local businessman named Frank (Tim Robbins) has been using his various construction projects to siphon off millions of dollars and stashing the money in offshore accounts. If Louis and Ordell kidnap Frank’s wife Mickey (Jennifer Aniston) the pair reason he’ll have no choice but to pay a million-dollar ransom as he won’t be able to go to the police. Unfortunately, what neither Mickey nor her would-be kidnappers realise is that Frank is just about to divorce his wife so that he can live with his mistress Melanie (Isla Fisher) and isn’t too keen on paying to get her back.
Life Of Crime is an adaptation of Elmore Leonard‘s 1978 book The Switch and is the last adaptation of one of his books that Leonard was personally involved with before his death in 2013. In a film-trivia twist, this makes Life of Crime a sort-of-prequel to Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown because Rum Punch (the novel Jackie Brown is based on) follows on from The Switch and features the later career of Ordell (meaning that Mos Def ages into Samuel L Jackson circa 1997).
Life Of Crime is more Coen brothers than Tarantino – the plot is driven by bad people making bad decisions for bad reasons, rather than stylish action and slick pop-culture dialogue. Louis and Ordell’s plan (Frank’s intransigence aside) is critically handicapped by their reliance on a mentally-unstable neo-Nazi called Richard (Mark Boone Junior) to provide them with guns and a hideout. Mickey’s prospective lover Marshall (Will Forte) witnesses the crime (because he was trying to seduce Mickey when she was kidnapped) but is too worried about his wife finding out to actually do anything to help. Meanwhile, Frank (drunk and boasting about how clever he is) spills the details of his embezzlement plan to Melanie, who decides to play the femme fatale to try and profit off both sides (despite, for her part, being much less clever than she thinks she is). The sole point of innocence here is Mickey, who had naively believed everything that Frank told her and is utterly blindsided by the revelation that he refuses to pay her ransom. I admit I have a soft spot for “people being bad at crime” movies, but the assorted convolutions and incompetencies here are nicely put together.
Jennifer Aniston is excellent, and Mickey is a really unusual and interesting character in that she’s naive but also really smart and resourceful – adapting quickly to her new circumstances and trying to figure out ways to help herself out of her situation.
Unfortunately, for all that good stuff, Life Of Crime feels just slightly lacking in something. The whole film has this odd slightly tacky over-bright TV set look, which is probably a deliberate reflection of the characters’ low-rent conspiracies buts robs everything of the edge it would need to be fully engaging. It’s good, but stops short of quite being as great as it could be.
- “Making of” featurette
- Theatrical trailer
- “Madman propaganda” (trailers)