You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Bag Man’

What's in the bag? A tedious, self-consciously quirky postmodern noir featuring John Cusack and Robert De Niro in two of the more obvious money jobs of their careers.


John Cusack, Rebecca Da Costa, Robert De Niro, Crispin Glover, Dominic Purcell, Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones, Martin Klebba, David Shumbris.

The titular satchel in “The Bag Man” is one of those coveted carry-ons, like the glowing briefcases of “Kiss Me Deadly” and “Pulp Fiction” fame, which everybody wants, nobody seems to know the contents of, and makes a world of trouble for all who come into contact with it. They include a melancholy widower hitman (John Cusack) and the assorted denizens of a fleabag Louisiana motel in this self-consciously weird postmodern noir that wrests some formidable competition to emerge as one of the most head-scratching money jobs of both Cusack’s and special guest star Robert De Niro’s careers. Despite a decent $14,000 average in its opening frame on two U.S. screens, the future looks bleak for the reportedly self-financed debut feature of British director David Grovic, while the name cast may stimulate modestly better VOD traffic.

Though the script (credited to Grovic and Paul Conway) purports to be based on an unproduced screenplay (“Motel”) by James Russo, “The Bag Man,” with its bayou setting and the presence of De Niro as a criminal mastermind who may (as once character implies) not even be human, frequently suggests an uninspired riff on Alan Parker’s 1987 “Angel Heart,” in which De Niro’s devilish Louis Cyphre hired washed-up private eye Mickey Rourke to track down a missing piece of human collateral. In “The Bag Man,” De Niro’s Dragna (a nod to the famed Los Angeles mafia family) offers Cusack’s Jack “an exorbitant sum of money” to retrieve said bag from said seedy motel — and, of course, whatever he does, never to look inside of it. This early scene unfolds on a private plane, with De Niro failing to turn a piece of undercooked steak into nearly as menacing a prop as Louis Syphre’s iconic hard-boiled egg.

De Niro, who presumably filmed this role before “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle” performed much-needed CPR on his acting career, effectively disappears from the movie for most of the next hour, leaving Cusack to fend for himself, including an offscreen scuffle with the bag’s previous guardian that leaves Jack with a bullet hole in his hand and a corpse in his trunk. From there, he proceeds to the motel, where the wheelchair-bound night manager (Crispin Glover, as a kind of deep-fried Norman Bates) asks too many questions and where, no sooner does Jack settle in for the night (in room 13, natch), than trouble literally comes knocking at his door.

Everyone, it seems, wants to get their hands on Jack’s precious pouch, including a meancing bruiser (Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones) and his Serbian dwarf sidekick (Martin Klebba), who may or may not be drug pushers, depending on how much one believes Rivka (Rebecca Da Costa), the tall, long-necked beauty of indeterminate origins who holes up in Jack’s bathroom claiming that the other two men are trying to kill her. Reluctant hero and distressed damsel/femme fatale proceed to spend much of the rest of the movie on the run from these and other pursuers (including a pair of incompetent local deputies), always eventually looping back to the motel to attend Dragma’s imminent arrival.

Grovic, who has a scattering of other credits as an actor and producer (and who’s described in the press notes as a distant relative of Sarah Bernhardt) clearly has a thing for people stuck in Beckett-esque nowherevilles, and indeed much of “The Bag Man” feels like an amateur theatrical with lots of verbose run-on monologues, labored quirky humor, and that ever-present bag, the exact contents of which — and how and why they got there — stop tantalizing the viewer long before they’re finally revealed. When De Niro reappears, he proves an unusually erudite talking killer, droning on about lessons learned from reading Sun Tzu and Herman Hesse, before uttering two words that can’t help but feel like a warning to unsuspecting viewers: “caveat emptor.”

Along the way, Grovic tries his hand at a couple of haphazard action sequences, including one three-way battle for control of a speeding car that’s about as hair-raising as the spinning teacup ride at Disneyland. Cusack, who plays almost the entire role from under a baseball cap labeled “Memphis” (though his character is supposed to be from Pittsburgh), seems ever so slightly more present here than he has in his last several movies (including his sleepwalking Richard Nixon in “The Butler”), but it’s only the Brazilian-born Da Costa who seems to be trying to create a real character. Despite being on hand mainly to be manhandled (the film, which includes one scene of De Niro sucker-punching a female associate in the face, evinces a generally deplorable attitude toward women), Da Costa manages to find an emotional truth amid all the film’s moody, abstract poses more often than her more seasoned co-stars.

The pic’s central motel set has been rendered in convincingly cruddy detail (you can all but smell the mold) by production designer J. Dennis Washington, though everything else sports a markedly more shoestring appearance (including an unnecessary New York-set coda). Widescreen digital lensing credited to two lensers, Steve Mason and David Knight, appeared distractingly murky and dark at the screening attended, though subsequent comparison to an online screener revealed this to be mainly a projection issue.

Film Review: 'The Bag Man'

Reviewed at Cinema Village, New York, Feb. 24, 2014. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 108 MIN.


A Cinedigm release of a Tin Res Prods. presentation. Produced by Peter D. Graves, Warren Ostergard, Antony Mitchell. Executive producer, David Grovic.


Directed by David Grovic. Screenplay, Grovic, Paul Conway, based on the original screenplay “Motel” by James Russo. Camera (Deluxe color, Sony F65 digital widescreen), Steve Mason, David Knight; editors, Michel R. Miller, Devin Maurer; music, Tony Morales, Edward Rogers; music supervisor, Mark Wike; production designer, J. Dennis Washington; art director, Kelly Curley; set decorator, Cynthia Slagter; set designers, Garrett Jacobs, Dave Kelsey; costume designer, Liz Staub; sound (Dolby Digital), Daniel Izen; sound designer, Wayne Lemmer; re-recording mixers, Skip Lievsay, Warren Hendriks, Joel Dougherty; visual effects supervisors, Ray McIntyre Jr., Peter Chesney; visual effects, Pixel Magic; stunt coordinator, Jery Hewitt; line producer, Cherelle George; associate producer, David Diliberto; assistant director, Chad Rosen; second unit director, Peter Chesney; second unit camera, Yasu Tanida; casting, Donald Paul Pemrick, Dean E. Fronk.


John Cusack, Rebecca Da Costa, Robert De Niro, Crispin Glover, Dominic Purcell, Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones, Martin Klebba, David Shumbris.

More Film

  • Dua LipaVariety Hitmakers Brunch, Portraits, Los

    'Alita: Battle Angel' to Feature New Song by Dua Lipa

    Robert Rodriguez’s “Alita: Battle Angel” will feature a new song by Dua Lipa. “Swan Song,” co-written by Justin Tranter, Kennedi Lykken, Mattias Larsson, Robin Fredriksson and Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL), in addition to Dua Lipa, will drop ahead of the film’s U.S. opening on Feb. 14. The Twentieth Century Fox action-adventure movie was produced by James Cameron and Jon Landau [...]

  • Les Arcs Festival Unveil Prizes For

    'System Crasher,' 'White on White' Win Work-In-Progress Awards at Les Arcs

    Nora Fingscheidt’s “System Crasher” and Theo Court’s “White on White” won the top prizes at Les Arcs Film Festival’s Work-in-Progress session. Both titles were among the 18 films in post-production pitched during the 10th edition of the Work-in-Progress showcase which is spearheaded by Frederic Boyer, the artistic director of Les Arcs and Tribeca festivals. “System [...]

  • Actress Shirley MacLaine poses at the

    Shirley MacLaine Selected for AARP Career Achievement Award

    Shirley MacLaine has been selected as the recipient of the AARP’s 2018 Movies for Grownups Career Achievement Award. MacLaine will be honored at the 18th annual Movies for Grownups Awards ceremony on Feb. 4 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. More Reviews Film Review: 'The Wedding' Film Review: 'Malila: The Farewell Flower' [...]

  • 'Where'd You Go, Bernadette' Trailer: Cate

    Cate Blanchett Disappears in 'Where’d You Go, Bernadette' First Trailer

    Cate Blanchett goes missing in the first trailer for Richard Linklater’s latest film, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette.” Based on Maria Semple’s 2012 novel, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” follows agoraphobic architect Bernadette Fox (Blanchett), who disappears just before a family trip to Antarctica. More Reviews Film Review: 'The Wedding' Film Review: 'Malila: The Farewell Flower' “Something unexpected [...]

  • Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman in

    'The Favourite' Leads London Critics' Circle Nominations

    Yorgos Lanthimos’ dark historical comedy “The Favourite” lived up to its title with the London Film Critics’ Circle on Tuesday, nabbing 10 awards nominations from the group – twice as many as its nearest rivals. Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma,” Lynne Ramsay’s “You Were Never Really Here,” Rupert Everett’s “The Happy Prince” and Pawel Pawlikowski’s European Film [...]

  • Picture Tree Intl. Rolls Out Pre-Sales

    Berlin: Picture Tree Intl. Rolls Out Pre-Sales on B.O. Hit ‘100 Things’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    MADRID — In the long run-up to February’s Berlin Festival, Picture Tree Intl. has rolled out multiple pre-sales on “100 Things,” which Warner Bros. Pictures bowed in Germany on Dec. 6 to a robust first eight-day €2.7 million ($3.07 million). “100 Things” will receive a market screening at the Berlinale’s European Film Market. More Reviews [...]

  • Mid 90s

    Jonah Hill's 'mid90s,' Pauline Kael Documentary to Screen in Berlin's Panorama Section

    Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, “mid90s,” about a 13-year-old skateboarder’s coming of age, and a documentary on influential film critic Pauline Kael are among the works that will screen in the Panorama section of the upcoming Berlin Film Festival. Films starring Tilda Swinton and Jamie Bell and titles from countries including Israel, Brazil and Japan were [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content