CHICAGO – Mention the name Harry Lennix, and images of his many character roles are bound to emerge – Harold Cooper in the TV series “The Blacklist,” General Swanwick from “Batman v Superman” and Commissioner Blades from Spike Lee’s recent “Chi-Raq.” The deeply knowledgeable Lennix brings his years of dramatic expertise, as he directs the Congo Square Theatre Company’s world premiere stage play “A Small Oak Tree Runs Red.’
Convoluted British Heist Flick ‘Wasteland’ Tests Your Patience
CHICAGO – I’m not sure there’s ever been a heist film in which the heist is discussed, debated, and argued about more than “Wasteland,” opening in Chicago this Friday, August 2, 2013. We know from the beginning, with its “Usual Suspects” narrative trick of an arrested man telling a cop how he got there, that things went wrong. And then we get to hear about the plan for things to go wrong over and over and over again. Writer/director Rowan Athale thinks he has made a crime caper a la “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” but the constant spinning of wheels drains the piece of its energy until a final act gets so convoluted that the whole thing falls apart.
Harvey (Luke Treadaway) was framed by a notorious crime lord named Steven Roper (Neil Maskell). As he explains it to D.I. West (Timothy Spall), successful crime bosses have to throw the cops a bone every once in a while to keep them off the scent of the real criminals. And so, not thinking about the potential for revenge, Roper plants drugs in Harvey’s apartment and gets him sent away. When Harvey gets out, he reunites with his beautiful girl Nicola (Vanessa Kirby) and tells his friends about a plan to go straight. He only needs the cash to join in on a business in Amsterdam. Where’s the best place to get the cash? Why not the guy who framed him?
Photo credit: Oscilloscope
Harvey figures out that Roper leaves most of his cash at a club in an office safe. Time to plan a heist with best buds Dempsey (energetic comic relief Iwan Rheon), Dodd (Matthew Lewis, Neville Longbottom from the “Harry Potter” movies), and Charlie (Gerard Kearns). The four guys figure out a way to break into the club and steal the money. But how did Harvey end up in an interrogation room with bruises and gashes all over his face and how did Roper end up in the hospital? Things must have gone very wrong, right?
“Wasteland” starts with a decent energy, reminiscent of Guy Ritchie’s crime films in the way it introduces characters on the edge willing to do stupid things in the name of love and revenge. Sadly, that energy just seeps out of the film as it drags its feet in the middle act, spinning wheels to get to the big reveal of what went down on that rainy night. We get scene after scene of the guys arguing as to whether or not they should do something this dangerous, slo-mo montages of their emotional deliberations (is Harvey really telling the detective about this…”and then I thought and thought and thought…”), and enough delay of the final act that it loses its power.
Ritchie’s films, despite their flaws, feel dense with character and setting details. “Wasteland” is just too thin. We don’t care about the characters enough to linger with them as a build-up to the final act. And it might not be as hard to take if that wham-bang finale wasn’t so straight-up ludicrous. I won’t spoil anything here but the plot holes in Harvey’s plan are big enough to make Danny Ocean cry foul. When you think back on it, “Wasteland” just doesn’t make a lot of sense. Combine narrative flaws with too little character development and what do we have? Just a waste.