What’s it About?
A criminal bides his time at a seedy motel, waiting for his boss after killing several men and making away with a mystery bag.
The Bag Man
Directed by David Grovic
5 out of 10
John Cusack (Identity, 1408, Say Anything) stars as Jack, a criminal for hire in director David Grovic’s (Freerunner) noirish thriller named “The Bag Man.” Jack is hired by an enigmatic mob boss named “Dragna” played with cheeky enthusiasm by Oscar Winner Robert De Niro (Raging Bull, Angel Heart, Heat), to wait at an isolated motel with a large and mysterious “Bag” until he arrives to retrieve it. Sounds simple enough, no? Well it isn’t. The film begins with Jack and Dragna on a private jet with Dragna, using his food, to describe what Jack is supposed to do and most importantly: Jack is to never look into the bag.
While Jack bides his time at the motel he runs into several odd characters that appear as if dropped in from a David Lynch film. Crispin Glover (Dead Man, 9, Back to the Future) stars as the handicapped motel manager, Ned. While Glover is interesting to watch as the seedy and drawling nosey-body manager, he doesn’t quite take off when the stilted interaction between him and Cusack comes across very monotone and stodgy. Granted though, in this under-intricate dark story, Glover remains one of the few strengths of the film.
Meanwhile, Jack, while renting a room and settling in to wait for Dragna and protecting the bag, also meets up with a prostitute named Rivka, played by Rebecca De Costa (Freerunner, 7 Below). She appears to be in some trouble that Jack eventually and reluctantly gets involved with which ends with Jack violently confronting her pimp, Lizard (Sticky Fingaz) and his co-hort Guano (Martin Klebba) in a very bloody Tarantino-esque sequence. It appears that more people other than Dragna are very interested in the “Bag” that Jack is holding on to and everyone has double agendas and cannot be trusted.
Especially, the local constable, Sheriff Larson played by Dominic Purcell (Gravedancers, Prison Break). In even more Tarantino like proceedings, Jack gets tortured back at the police station for information about his bag and the reason he’s at the motel (meanwhile, Jack is forced to deal with Lizard, Guano and Ned). In one of the better moments, Rivka shows up at the station as a captive and showing some resourcefulness and resolve ends up helping Jack escape while some action ensues.
I think I may be being a bit more generous with my rating than I should be with “The Bag Man” from writer Paul Conway (Based on a story called “The Cat”). Grovic maintains some style which perpetuates the oddball mood and overall noir ambiance. The story and settings are gritty, dark, misshapen and strange. Everyone has their own agendas at this motel and even as the story moves on, one can’t help but be reminded that we have all seen this before.
Grovic’s film is prone to quirky but uneven bouts of perverse violence (In one scene, De Niro punches a woman in the face for screwing up a buying transaction) that is vicious but not terribly fiendish or original in it’s gravity. Despite Grovic’s mixed bag of a story and boring execution, it’s the actors that make the movie somewhat palatable. Unfortunately, just barely, since they don’t have much to do with the material.
Cusack marches on with his continuance of accepting shabby material that doesn’t quite suit his talents. He and De Niro, who is terribly misused here, just sleepwalk through this movie. While Grovic and Conway try to give them something to chew on, Cusack and De Niro never make it pop. De Niro here is well…De Niro. It is the same bad guy we have seen him play over and over again but with a large and overblown hairdo that makes him look like something out of Lewis Carroll story.
His line delivery is just ok but Dragna is more mysterious than interesting instead of being both. So many parts of this film seem as if cut from other films that have done it better like, say, Pulp Fiction. And by the time, after enduring numerous prosaic and humdrum twists, the end comes and the big reveal is made, we don’t really care about the bag or what is in it anymore. Grovic attempts big things here (like delivering a noir thriller) but he appears to be stuck in mimicking (purposefully or not) other directors and styles.
If you must sit through “The Bag Man” just keep in mind that the film is ultimately very average and pretty forgettable. I would recommend a one time watch if you are really BIG fans of Cusack and De Niro (And Glover, even). They may be the only reason to watch and sit through this intense but muddled crime flick that owes almost all of it’s cliched style and mood to better films.
There is very little innovation present and while the film looks good, DP Steve Mason (Basic) does an admirable job keeping it dark, there is barely enough to back it up in terms of story and originality. “The Bag Man” is regrettably a mixed bag and a wasted opportunity, so I can’t urge you to watch or even recommend it. Sorry John and Robert. I love you guys, but wow, this was a waste of your impressive talents. Proceed with caution on this one, gang!