Sometimes, the bad guy isn’t really a bad guy.
Directed by Allan Ungar, Bandit is a free-wheeling heist extravaganza that will steal your heart. With a pop flare, the film is fun, furious and energetic in unexpected ways. Through its breaking of the fourth wall, voiceovers and text overlays, Ungar keeps the emphasis on the fun without ever losing the film’s heart and soul. In some ways, the film feels like a bit of an anomaly for Canadian cinema. While a great deal of homegrown films are hilarious, they are often embedded with a sense of self-reflection or seriousness to balance out the humour. But Bandit takes the opposite approach. Possessed with the spirit of Ocean’s Eleven, the film revels in the criminal underworld with such glee that one cannot help but be caught up within the fun.
Set in 1985, Bandit tells the true story of Gilbert Galvan Jr. (Josh Duhamel), a career criminal who breaks out of prison and escapes to Canada to start his life over. And, after he falls in love with Andrea (Elisha Cuthbert), Galvan feels inspired to finally give up his life of crime… until he realizes that he can’t possibly provide for his new family. Wanting to make ends meet (and maybe a little more), Galvan begins a rash of daring bank robberies across the country, earning him the name ‘The Flying Bandit’. However, after he gets involved with gangster Tommy Kay (Mel Gibson), the police begin to get wise to his antics and look to put an end to his crime spree.
Of course, what makes the film most unique is the fact that its rooted in history. Like all biopics, there’s little doubt that the film is willing to play with the facts—but Ungar wants to ensure that the audience knows that the wildest moments are accurate. Through playfully-executed text overlays, Ungar does his very best to ground the film in the history books. As a result, part of the magic of Bandit is that the outlandishness of its stories is rooted in truth, giving a surprisingly credibility to the film.
While the supporting cast do well with what they’re given, it’s Duhamel who looks like he’s having more fun than he has in years. Once praised for his boyish charm, Duhamel has taken a wide range of projects in recent years that keep him on the sidelines. (For example, although technically a lead in the Transformers franchise, Duhamel constantly takes a backseat to the giant robots that battle furiously all around him.) But in Bandit, Duhamel is invited to play with the toys that he has been given and thrives on centre stage. With ridiculous costumes and that a charming grin, its been a long time since Duhamel has looked as at home in a character as he does as Galvan Jr.
What’s also interesting about the script for Bandit is that it also takes away some of the blame from the infamous Flying Bandit. On several occasions, Bandit goes out of its way to point out the damage created by a broken system that prevents people from earning an honest day’s wage. Set in the recession of the 1980s, this is a time where employment is fleeting (even for ice cream men) and everyone is struggling. With this in mind, the film takes much of the responsibility off of Galvan’s shoulders and places in on a broken society that forces its people to compromise their values to survive. (In fact, in even the police detectives point out the challenges of simply trying to pay the bills.)
Similarly, Bandit not only challenges the system, but also highlights the importance of knowing people’s stories. Whereas Galvin is viewed as a thief for his actions, so too does understanding his situation help the viewer to see him with eyes of grace. We hold him accountable for his heists but we also see his humanity. As such, this is a story which is clearly told with affection as the script brings the ex-con’s criminal charm to life. He loves his family and wants to get his life together and ‘go straight’. (In fact, it’s worth noting that Galvin Jr. himself served as a consultant for the film and even cameos in the background in several places.)
While Galvan may be the bad guy, we don’t think that he’s fully a bad guy.
It’s that magic and charisma that keeps Bandit running. Fueled by fun, Ungar weaves a tale of thievery with such delight that one can’t help but root for the bad guy, even as he racks up the heists..
After all, he’s not really that bad.
Bandit is available in theatres and on demand on Friday, September 23rd, 2022.