Film Reviews


By • Feb 27th, 2014 •

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Usually, nothing promising happens in a motel unless it’s pornography. With desk clerks named Norman and motels named HELL, rest assured that it’s more than bedbugs and mold that cause a permanent check out. Factor in a bag in need of stashing and killers like Anton Chigurh’s relentless retrieval methods to relieve the maid and make way for SUNSHINE CLEANING.

We’ve taken numerous trips down narrow roads to a remote location with a neon sign illuminating the lodging under the night sky. THE BAG MAN is the latest revival of the motel in the middle of nowhere scenario; a place where Google Map’s yellow man, Pegman, would get lost. This is the land of non-existent functioning technologies, corrupt lawmen, and weird characters hanging about. The screenplay is inspired by Hitchcock type plots and twists and David Lynch’s bizarre characters. The film, from first time writer/director David Grovic, is tangled in its ambition. Regardless, it is a humorous neo-noir with stylized lighting and fine camera work crafted by Steve Mason.

Jack (John Cusack) is instructed to pick up a bag and await the arrival of Dragna (Robert De Niro) at a motel and under no circumstances look in the bag. With a hole in his plan, the resourceful bag man checks into the motel and is greeted by a meddling desk clerk (Crispin Glover). A Russian pimp along with a few other characters intervene, including a prostitute (Rebecca Da Costa). The law is called in and eventually Dragna arrives. (This synopsis has been greatly reduced from the exponential plot.)

Imagine unsavory characters carousing in some seedy international underbelly run bar that offers delights and death, converging for one night to give Jack hell. THE BAG MAN cast them.

At the top is Dragna – a man of refined taste, astute, business savvy and cultured in fracturing faces. De Niro, with beard and glasses, appears to have morphed into director Martin Scorsese from the TAXI DRIVER era. Perhaps it’s his homage to the man who helped place him on the map. De Niro is delivering to us the man that we love for him to be, yet it’s as if he is aware of this and is doing it just for us.

Rivka is the femme fatale in blue…blue hair. She’s a saucy dish in hooker fashion adhering to the noir guidelines of lethal with a dose of poisonous love. Initially in the role of damsel in distress, she quickly sheds any thin skin to expose a tough hide necessary to survive her pernicious encounter with Jack.

Ned is an aptly simple name suited for such a simpleton. Crispin Glover’s front desk clerk is the badgering, nimble minded, rule-abiding thorn in Jack’s side. You would expect him to company with that guy with the sling blade.

The only “normal” character is Jack. Cusack is no stranger to motels from IDENTITY and as a hit man who sympathizes in GROSSE POINT BLANK. Pulled in various directions as everything goes awry, faced with life-changing implications, and pondering trust issues while suffering from nagging bullet wounds, it’s his mid of the night life crisis.

The one constant in this film is: Don’t look in the bag. Some people learned what’s in the bag/case/box in various films. Vincent Vega did in PULP FICTION. We still don’t know what was in it. Mills learned what was in the box in SE7EN. So did we. Going way back into the cinema vault, two films with bags of questionable content are BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA by Sam Peckinpah and DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE.

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