Add first-time writer-director Joe Chappelle to the list of talented young filmmakers who find neo-noir film’s textures and terrains irresistible, and use the genre as their low-budget path to self-expression and gainful employment. Theatrical numbers and good reviews should provide a modest send-off for the video release, and a bigger boost for Chappelle’s helming career.
His edgy little crime thriller, “Thieves Quartet,” drives a familiar road, where quirky, down-and-dirty crooks conspire and connive, and ultimately square off over their ill-gotten gains.
“Thieves” makes a fine showcase for Chappelle’s directorial chops and is a sturdy crime drama filled with tension and first-rate performances. But the writer half of Chappelle’s hyphenate status delivers a routine, by-the-numbers plot that culminates in a pay-off so predictable as to now be beyond cliche for fans of Hong Kong’s John Woo, Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs,” and their imitators.
When aging hippie bartender Art Bledsoe (Joe Guastaferro) dreams up a kidnapping plot to score a quick $ 2 million, he turns to three partners in his hometown Chicago to help him.
Jimmy Fuqua (Phillip Van Lear) is susceptible to the lure of fast money, since he seems destined for little more than a nickel-and-dime car wash job. Mike Quinn (James Eichling), a disgraced Chicago ex-cop, and Jessica Sutter (Michele Cole), Bledsoe’s sleazy girlfriend, are in similarly dreary straits, with no hope for advancement except, as one observes, crime or “hitting the lottery.”
Their lottery arrives in the form of an intricate plan to grab Jill Luce (Dawn Maxie), the daughter of blueblood tycoon Morgan Luce (Richard Henzel).
Ostensibly a character study that gets inside the heads of the “Thieves Quartet,” film suffers from the fact that once inside their heads, there isn’t much of interest and, despite terrific work from all of the leads, there’s more gold in the film’s tense action moments when the kidnapping scheme gets under way and begins to unravel.
When first-rate character players like Eichling and Guastaferro are on screen , the film achieves a powerful believabilty that is riveting, and Van Lear’s sad , wistful performance as Fuqua provides the moral center of a criminal universe in collapse.
Effectively and resourcefully shot for minimal bucks on location in Chicago and the Illinois countryside, “Thieves” boasts atmospheric camerawork by Greg Littlewood and a dazzling score by John Zorn.