Where the Money Is (1999) ***
Directed by Marek Kanievska. Written by E.Max Frye, Topper Lilien and Carroll Cartwright, based on a story by Frye. Photography, Thomas Burstyn. Editing, Sam Craven, Garth Craven and Dan Lebental. Production design, Andre Chamberland. Music, Mark Isham. Produced by Ridley Scott, Charles Weinstock, Chris Zarpas and Christopher Dorr. Cast: Paul Newman (Henry), Linda Fiorentino (Carol), Dermot Mulroney (Wayne), Susan Barnes ( Foster), Anne Pitoniak ( Tetlow), et al. A USA Films/Grammercy release. 89 minutes. PG-13 (language, hints of sex) Points earned. For likelihood of plot *1/2 For interest of subject ** For unpretentiousness ***. For Linda Fiorentino *** 1/2. For Paul Newman **** Bonus points: we at BBNMM (Bring Back the Ninety Minute Movie) commend the film.
Its title is the famous quote attributed to robber Willie Sutton (1901-1980) when he was asked why he robbed banks. "Because that's where the money is." In reality, Willie (also known as Willie the Actor for his disguises) never said it. Unlike Yogi Bera, he did not leave a legacy of other quotes. But the apocryphal reply has been used time and again in wildly different cicumstances.
London-born director Marek Kanievska, has just two previously released features. "Another Country "(UK, 1984) comes from a prize-winning London play about with public schools (private schools in American parlance) in the 1930s, homosexuality, non-conformism, the real-life defection of Brits to the USSR. It was nominated for Best Picture at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival.
"Less Than Zero" (USA, 1987) was very distantly adapted from the Brett Easton Ellis novel on golden youths and their dissipation. A peculiar coincidence: The film of Ellis's controversial novel "American Psycho" came out the same week as "Where the Money Is."
The skeleton of the story. Carol (Fiorentino) is a nurse in an old people's home in the Oregon sticks. (The town is played by areas of Montreal). She is sharp, lively and by now somehow aware that there's more to life than her job and that there ought to be more in her marriage with her high school sweetheart, unambitious Wayne (Mulrooney)
A prison bus delivers to the sanitarium chronic bank robber Henry (Newman) who has had a stroke. In his wheelchair, he is like a near-paralyzed vegetable. Carol, however, instinctively suspects that he is a fraud. She tries all sorts of tricks --including sexual ones -- to unmask him. In vain.
Eventually though, she succeeds. Shakespeare wrote "Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety" (Henry IV). Carol, out of Henry's catatonia plucks a vigorous, smart, still glamorous and sexy man. The purpose of his tour-de-force act as the total invalid is a transfer to a place which is easy to escape from.
Now being himself and laying his cards on the table, Henry, authoritative. suave and charming flirts and dances with Carol. She is not unaffected. He regales the couple with the theory and practice of heists. Inevitably, the patient, his nurse, and the reluctant husband plan a Brinks-type robbery. It nets them an armored vehicle and guard uniforms. The two men impersonate the money-collectors. Carol operates the communications system with admirable presence of mind.
The first part of the film is cool, laid back like Newman, and most unhurried. It is pleasant for the viewers to have time to watch developments, catch nuances and not be pushed around by the story
The second part is a savory cocktail of comedy, near-farce and suspense. In "their" armored car, the trio follow the scheduled route. Improbabilites are numerous, but the sleight-of-hand of script, direction and production make you forget all about disbelief and the suspension thereof. The suspense comes from the steady changes of venues, each with its own problems and solutions. There are echoes of some earlier Paul Newman roles.. There might also be a tongue-in-cheek homage to such heist movies as Stanley Kubrick's early "The Killing." The genre has longevity. So do several pleasantly immoral films which make us root for likable rogues and thieves.
Paul Newman is the colorful, masterful glue that keeps things sticking together. By the way, he is 73 and not 75 here.The picture was made in 1998. Why its release was delayed for two years baffles me.
Newman is astonishing. Any signs of the occasional callowness of his youth have disppeared of course. He is, however, vibrant with youthfulness, energy, humor, self-control, self-confidence and wisdom. Still a four-star charmer.
Linda Fiorentino is also an umitigated source of joy. I cannot tell why exactly, but at least twice I felt that she looked like Lauren Bacall, perhaps because of a combination of gutsiness, initiative and.smarts. She is such a fast learner that anyone who has ever taught a class would give anything to have students like her.
The plot's movie-movie dialogue snaps and crackles. Carol cuts her robber teeth on her own. She gets from a small bank a bonus toaster-oven without opening the necessary account. Disapproving Henry throws it in a lake. The imperturbable lady's reaction: "It says you're not supposed to immerse it in water!" Or Henry to Wayne who will case a joint: "Look at them in the eye. But not like you're going to remember their faces."
There are more small pearls of this order. They help raise the film from light entertainment to a solid "divertimento."