Two of the biggest stars in Hollywood took pay cuts to appear in what is essentially a quirky independent movie — with two of the biggrest stars in Hollywood. Even though Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts are both top-notch acting talents who do not get enough credit for taking risks (Pitt’s performance in “12 Monkeys” was one of the best of the decade), in this movie their star power overwhelms not just their acting but the movie’s story as well. The effect is like trying to juggle a bowling ball with a dozen eggs. Fortunately, when things get out of kilter or the plot begins to sag, there is all that star power to keep us happy and give us something to enjoy until it gets going again. If the movie has a lot of pieces that don’t quite fit together, at least they are all high-quality pieces. It may be something of a mess, but it is an interesting mess to watch.
Pitt and Roberts play Jerry and Samantha, a couple whose romantic relationship is complicated enough when Jerry is called on to perform one last errand for a mob boss. He has to go to Mexico to get a valuable antique gun called “The Mexican” from a man named Beck and bring them both back with him. Jerry tries to explain to Samantha that given a choice between letting down the mob and letting down his girlfriend, the fact that only one of those options involves death has to factor into the calculus. Samantha, who is a big fan of the women’s magazine school of relationships and who reads books like “Men Who Can’t Love” with a highlighter in her hand, tosses Jerry’s clothes out the window and sets off to pursue her dream of becoming a croupier in Las Vegas.
The mob guys know that Jerry’s focus and competence cannot be counted on without a little added incentive, so they arrange for Samantha to be kidnapped by a hitman named Leroy (James Gandolfini of HBO’s “The Sopranos”).
Gandolfini is just plan brilliant in the role, and the scenes between Leroy and Samantha are the best part of the movie. He explains that he is “here to regulate funkiness” and she tells him that he has “trust issues.” Soon they are giving each other relationship advice in between shoot-outs. Meanwhile, Jerry, who tends to “Forrest Gump through life,” is chasing after the gun, with intermittent success.
We want Jerry and Sam to get together, but the movie becomes less interesting when they do. Even a surprise cameo from another big star does not help us through a final act that involves the loss of characters we have come to care about. Jerry and Samantha react and behave in ways that we are not used to seeing characters played by big stars behave. Pitt and Roberts give it all they have, but the script does not have enough weight to help make that behavior consistent with what we know of the characters.
Parents should know that the movie is very violent, with a lot of shooting, graphic injuries, and the deaths of important characters. A woman commits suicide when her lover is killed. Characters drink and smoke and one character is drunk. There are mild sexual references, including a homosexual relationship. Some of the Mexican characters could be considered stereotypes, but then so could some of the American characters.
Families who see this movie should talk about how people work out the complexities of relationships and why it is that so many of the characters care more about relationships than about money or the life and death situations all around them. Leroy may have more than most people to worry about when he thinks about what a romantic prospect will think about what he does and who he is, but that is always a concern for anyone contemplating an intimate relationship. The idea that “the past doesn’t matter — it’s the future that counts” is a beguiling one — is it true? Under what circumstances? Leroy talks about being “surrounded by lonliness and finality,” and about how the people who die having loved are different from those who die alone. This is worth discussing, along with the way that Sam and Jerry begin to think about their relationship as being special enough so that they cannot walk away from it.
Families may also want to talk about the way that Jerry’s friend justifies participating in criminal acts by compartmentalizing, explaining that he is just doing his “portion.”
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Raising Arizona.”