Thursday, June 27, 2013

In short: The Anderson Tapes (1971)

aka The Anderson Clan

Professional thief Duke Anderson (Sean Connery) is being released from prison after a ten-year-stint that has left him wanting to make one last big score so he can finally retire. Duke finds a place to rob quickly enough: he wants to plunder every single apartment in the luxury building his former and now again girlfriend Ingrid (Dyan Cannon) lives in. Duke gets together a merry band of thieves consisting of old friends like the gay antique show owner Tommy Haskins (Martin Balsam), as well as a prison acquaintance only known as The Kid (a young Christopher Walken in his first major cinema role), and some fresh professionals. He does, however, need money and organisational help for the job, so Duke also puts his old mobster contacts into play. The help of bipolar mafioso Angelo (Alan King) has its price beyond the monetary, though, and Duke has to grudgingly agree to take a certain Socks (Ralph Meeker) - a guy too violent even for the tastes of organized crime - on and kill him when the heist is done. Of course, the heist always goes wrong anyway.

Despite my general dislike for that sort of thing, I think the best films by Sidney Lumet are those with a clear and consequent thesis holding the director's disparate impulses in check. The Anderson Tapes lacks that kind of throughline - I'm quite sure it's meant as some kind of comment on the ubiquitousness of surveillance and/or the vagaries of technology, but this aspect of the film seems vague and underdeveloped. The film shows a lot of scenes of Anderson being secretly filmed while crossing the paths of people government organizations are actually interested in, but that aspect is neither actually explored nor used in the plot beyond a last minute plot development that has nothing whatsoever to do with government surveillance, so it really feels like a wasted chance at actually taking a look at what permanent surveillance might mean.

What's left is a rather disparate film whose tone permanently meanders between hard-nosed realism, unfunny humour, and Lumet's customary sense for the absurd without ever either deciding on a tone or managing to make its tonal shifts feel organic. Consequently, The Anderson Tapes feels a bit disjointed and episodic, as if we were actually watching scenes from three or four different movies that just happen to share an acting ensemble and a basic plot. Viewed on their own, many of these scenes are actually as effective as one would expect from Lumet, full of small telling gestures, straight-faced weirdness, and fine acting that completely lacks showiness. However, these separate moments of accomplishment and interest never come together to build an actual whole, leaving The Anderson Tapes as a series of scenes which surely are worth seeing, but not as an effective movie.

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