When a pampered housewife (Jennifer Aniston) is kidnapped by a pair of blundering ex-cons in an effort to extort money from her sleazy real-estate tycoon husband (Tim Robbins), the perfect crime becomes the perfect opportunity for the husband to ride off into the sunset with his sexy young mistress (Isla Fisher) until the housewife decides it is her turn to even the score.
Have you ever wondered what life was like for Ordell Robbie and Louis Gara (Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro) before the events of Quentin Tarantino's 'Jackie Brown'? Well now you can find out with this film titled 'Life of Crime', which is based on the Elmore Leonard book 'The Switch' from 1978. Leonard's 1992 novel 'Rum Punch' was adapted into 'Jackie Brown' in 1997. This is more or less a prequel to 'Jackie Brown' that focuses more the Ordell and Louis characters and their earlier crimes.
Director Daniel Schechter must be a huge fan of both 'Jackie Brown' and the Coen Brother's film 'Fargo', because 'Life of Crime' is basically both of those films rolled into one with the same type of dark humor that made those films iconic in the first place. While 'Life of Crime' is nowhere near as good as 'Fargo' or 'Jackie Brown', it still has enough laughs, stylistic choices, A-list cast, and fun dialogue to stand on its own despite its low budget of only $12 million dollars.
The film is set in the 1970s, complete with the outrageous outfits and hairdos true to that time period where we see a younger Ordell (Mos Def) and Louis (John Hawkes), trying to figure out how to make money on the next scheme. They hatch a plan to kidnap a wealthy socialite named Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston) who is married to a very wealthy business man named Frank (Tim Robbins). Ordell and Louis know that Frank is always out of town and is indeed seeing a younger woman on the side named Melaine Ralston (Isla Fisher, but formally played by Bridget Fonda in 'Jackie Brown').
They do indeed kidnap Mickey, but to their dismay, Frank is perfectly fine with his wife being kidnapped and possibly killed, so he doesn't have to pay a ransom or any spousal support in the future. In fact, he already sent Mickey divorce papers. Now, Ordell and Louis must go to Plan B to collect money on their crime. Meanwhile, a man named Marshall Taylor (Will Forte), a married man who is trying to have an affair with Mickey gets caught up in this schemed and ends up being kidnapped as well, only adding to the chaos for Ordell and Louis to get out of. Some of same sadistic funny moments from 'Fargo' and 'Jackie Brown' are evident in 'Life of Crime', and Schechter does a great job of keeping it fresh while paying homage to the previous films.
Even though there are some tense moments and some funny dialogue, the pacing is somewhat off here and doesn't flow as well as it should. But with the fun and entertaining cast here, you'll tend to turn the other cheek at these ailments. Aniston is excellent here, as is Robbins and Forte. Mos Def and John Hawkes are excellent as younger versions of these 'Jackie Brown' characters, which should make De Niro and Jackson proud.
'Life of Crime' comes with a good 1080p HD transfer presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The image has a very vintage look to it and has a dreary effect through out most of the film, even thought it was shot digitally. Part of the film takes place in Detroit where there is a since of dread and dullness in the picture itself, which was intentionally done to give that dark comedic vibe. The best looking scenes take place on the beach, which have the brightest colors and the highest level of detail. Closeups are very vivid and sharp throughout though, which showcase makeup blemishes, wrinkles, and fine stitching in the 1970's wardrobe choices.
The image looks somewhat flat though and doesn't have a lot of depth in the wider shots, with the exception of the beach exteriors. Colors have been muted on purpose to give that stale sense of suspense, however, there are moments where there are bright scenes with yellow hues. But I would say that nothing really pops here. Skin tones look natural and the black levels are somewhat deep and inky, but there are instances of some crush in the lower lit scenes. That being said, there were no major issues with banding or aliasing, leaving this interesting video presentation with decent marks.
This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix and sounds fairly good. I wouldn't say that this is a heavy action packed soundtrack with thundering bass or big explosions. Instead, this is more of a dialogue heavy crime movie with some excellent sound effects and an fantastic score. The sound effects are robust and well balanced through the surrounds and sound very realistic. Whether it be a car crash or or city noises, each sound is layered, full, and has some great directionality.
The dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to understand, even under the masks. There were no instances of any pops, cracks, or hiss either. The score always adds to the suspense and dark comedy of each scene and was crafted perfectly by The Newton Brothers. Even though there isn't a lot of bass that will rumble your walls or deafening gun blasts, this audio mix does the job just fine.
Audio Commentary - Actor Will Forte and Director Daniel Schechter deliver a fun and easy going commentary track where they more or less just remember their time making the film. They have a wealth of information they discuss from shooting the film to where the story came from, as well as some funny anecdotes from the set. This is a good listen if you're a fan of the movie.
Behind the Scenes of 'Life of Crime' (HD, 10 Mins.) - Here is decent sized standard promo reel of the film with cast and crew interviews spliced with scenes from the film and on set footage.
Envisioning the Big Picture: Shooting Crime (HD, 10 Mins.) - This extra centers on the director and how he adapted the novel to the big screen and attained an all-star cast.
Hit and Run: Choreographing Mayhem (HD, 7 Mins.) - Here, we see how some of the storyboards and rehearsals helped out with the bigger action moments of the movie.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 11 Mins.) - This is a mixed bag of extended scenes and actual deleted moments from the film, none of which add that much to the entire story.
You probably haven't heard of 'Life of Crime', although it made the rounds on the film festival circuit, but it never had a big release in theaters, which is strange, given the story and A-list cast. It made less than $2 million in theaters, but perhaps for this home video release, it will gain a decent following, because it deserves it, due to its great dark comedy and fantastic performances. The video and audio presentations are both good and the few extras are entertaining. If you're a fan of 'Jackie Brown' and 'Fargo', you're going to enjoy 'Life of Crime'. Worth a look.