“Life Of Crime” premieres at TIFF, first reviews available

Isla’s upcoming movie Life Of Crime received its world premiere on closing night of the Toronto Film Festival last night. Isla was unfortunately not in attendance, but her co-star Jennifer Aniston took on promotional duties for the press conference and premiere. And so we now have our first reviews for the film! Read on to see a few of them, plus The Hollywood Reporter’s report on the films premiere, as well as a Q&A with director Daniel Schechter. The Sound On Sight and The Guardian reviews are particularly complimentary towards Isla’s performance!

The Guardian

Life of Crime: Toronto 2013 – first look review

Jennifer Aniston, Tim Robbins and John Hawkes set the scene and dispatch killer dialogue in this adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s The Switch

4 out of 5

Daniel Schechter’s adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s 1978 novel The Switch was the last movie with which the novelist was intimately involved, and the last film of this year’s Toronto film festival. The final spot on the schedule is not always the most coveted, but this is an unexpectedly winning take from one of the less splashy directors to have attempted Leonard.

It gleams with a faintly-tacky, country club sheen, as if it’d been sheep-dipped in essence of 70s and come out feeling peachy. The woman in the crispest whites is Mickey (Jennifer Aniston), playing the stoical socialite wife of fraudster Frank (Tim Robbins, sweaty and repellant). She becomes the target of an ill-planned plot by Ordel (Mos Def) and Louis (John Hawkes), who plan to kidnap her, and only release for $1m. Problem is: Frank wants her out of the picture anyway, having filed divorce papers before jetting down from still-prosperous Detroit to Florida to catch up with longterm mistress, Melanie (Isla Fisher). The idea of skipping alimony in the bargain means not parting with the ransom is a no-brainer.

For all its neat plot flips, its nips and tucks and flies in the ointment (like Will Forte’s cowardly would-be lover, who witnesses the abduction), you always know what’s likely to happen. In between persuading Ordell not to chop her fingers off and muting the pervy intentions of the wheezing Nazi grotesque in whose house she’s stashed, Louis finds himself drawn to his bounty. It’s reverse Stockholm syndrome, done with apple pie courtesy.

So far, so predictable. What means this bowls along so happily is the dialogue, neatly filleted and served up a treat. The performances, too, are top notch: Aniston reminding us of the deft comic timing which first so endeared her; Hawkes a surprisingly convincing male lead, Mos Def as charming as ever. Isla Fisher, who hasn’t had a part to really chow down on since her friendly nympho in The Wedding Crashers, makes Melanie even scattier, even more lethally confident, than the book suggests.

Never complain, never explain, someone quotes Henry Kissinger as saying, before someone else corrects them – it was Henry Ford. This is a good-natured, show-not-tell treat, almost bloodless fun to finish a bruising, brilliant festival.



I’ve never read any of Elmore Leonard’s novels, and yes, I’m ashamed. But I know from the film adaptations of his crime novels that there’s a way to do them right and wrong. They have a confidence, a swagger, a sly wink, a braggadocio, and they’re smart. They have the talk for the walk, and some directors, most notably Quentin Tarantino with Jackie Brown (based off Leonard’s Rum Punch) and Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight, are smart enough to bring that confidence to the screen. Those films make the uninitiated feel embarrassed that they haven’t joined the club. Even with Daniel Schechter’s cautious adaptation of Life of Crime (based on the novel The Switch) the audience can hear Leonard speaking. Schechter’s direction is serviceable enough to not get in the way, he wisely trust his strong cast, accents the comedy, and lets Leonard do the talking.

Set in Detroit in 1978, Ordell Robbie (yasiin bey) and Louis Gara (John Hawkes) have a perfectly-laid plan for kidnapping trophy wife Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston), and get a million dollar ransom from her husband Frank (Tim Robbins). Like all best-laid kidnapping plans in movies, this one goes to hell from the word “go” despite the impressive amount of planning on the part of Ordell and Louis. It turns out that family friend Marshall Taylor (Will Forte) has a doomed crush on Mickey; Frank is having an affair with the scheming Melanie Ralston (Isla Fisher); and Ordell and Louis’ partner Richard (Mark Boone Junior) is a pervert and a neo-Nazi. These complicating human factors force all the players to consider just how far they’re willing to go to get what they want.

The structure of a large group of characters all going after different goals and crashing into each other in the process should be recognizable to people who are passingly familiar with previous adaptations of Leonard’s work. Life of Crime is a prequel to Rum Punch (Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro played Ordell and Louis, respectively), and the same kind of ensemble dynamic can be seen in Out of Sight, Get Shorty, Be Cool, and The Big Bounce to name a few. What’s clear from these adaptations is that they’re working from quality material. The challenge is in the execution.

For Schechter’s part, Life of Crime feels like a respectful adaptation. The elements shine through without embellishment, and that’s the best and worst aspect of the movie. I can’t speak to the faithfulness of the adaptation, but I can spot when a director is being precious with the material and Schechter doesn’t provide much style even though Leonard was acclaimed for the style he brought to his novels. As editor-in-chief Steve Weintraub pointed out to me after we saw the screening, Schechter doesn’t even try to make Life of Crime look like it was shot on film despite the film’s setting. There are some nice music choices, but they feel standard rather than part of a unique vision.

While Schechter doesn’t try to leave his stamp on the material, he still brings solid pacing, good comic timing, and a fair amount of suspense. He has a huge boon in his excellent cast, especially bey and Hawkes. It’s a relief to see kidnappers who may not be hardened professionals, but they’re not dummies either. Their plan is audacious, but when it starts unraveling, bey and Hawkes have the wherewithal to play into the humor without become caricatures. The two actors play off each other wonderfully, and make Ordell and Louis frustrated but never flustered.

Even if you’re like me and have yet to read any of Leonard’s books, his style is too distinct to miss even if some filmmakers have desperately missed the mark. Life of Crime is straight shot, but it’s muffled, and unless you’re adapting Poirot, there’s no reason to be so delicate and dainty. The adaptation may not be living to the fullest, but it’s got enough to let you know it’s kicking.

Rating: B-

Sound On Sight

TIFF 2013: ‘Life of Crime’ a fine addition to canon of Elmore Leonard adaptations

Life of Crime
Written and directed by Daniel Schechter
USA, 2013

With the timing of a well-orchestrated heist, the latest screen adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel closes this year’s Toronto Film Festival. Given his recent passing and the well-deserved plaudits from various luminaries of pen and screen, his rap sheet has been celebrated over the past few weeks. Based on Leonard’s novel The Switch, writer and director Daniel Schechter has managed to embezzle a fine addition to the long list of lean Leonard works. Although it doesn’t quite hit the jackpot, it does manage to purloin some fine criminal characters and a gutsy group of belly laughs to boot.

Ordell Robbie (Yasiin Bey/Mos Def) and Louis Gara (John Hawkes) are looking to take down one big score, so when their inside guy alerts them to a wealthy mark, they hatch a devious kidnapping plan. Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston) is the unfortunate object of their criminal affections, married to the odious Florida property magnate Frank Dawson (a squirm-inducing Tim Robbins) in a affection free union. She’s busy banging her tennis coach Marshall (Will Forte), who is also smitten with the devious Melanie (Isla Fisher). When the slightly buffoonish Robbie and Gara embark on their scheme, they genially deal with the revelation that Frank may not want to see his wife anymore. What’s more, a bout of Stockholm syndrome derived affection may be developing between Mickey and Louis.

Although it never quite gets on a winning streak, Life Of Crime is a reasonable addition to the world of Leonard adaptations. Like Leonard’s trademark taut prose style, Schechter?s direction is similarly direct and perfunctory, abducting scenes with minimal coverage and letting the characters drive the scam. Hawkes, as always, is quietly great but Aniston seems woefully miscast as the confused Mickey, all chirpy surprise and feigned resignation. She honestly feels as if she has wandered into shot from a light comedy shooting at the same time. The real stars are Isla Fisher as the scheming and avaricious Melanie, who shrewdly pushes Frank not to follow the criminals’ instructions; and Mark Boone Jr. as an imbecilic Aryan brotherhood accomplice, in probably his biggest on-screen part to date. (You may remember him best as the corrupt cop Flass in Batman Begins.)

The tone is spritely with little threat or danger that anyone is about to get clipped for a sweet haul of that which makes the world go around, and the plot moves into unpredictable waters with more of a peppy caper flavour than the more sour American crime thrillers of the past few years. The usual suspects—Jackie Brown, which shares the some of the same characters, and Out Of Sight—remain the big, bulky jailhouse bosses in the exercise paddock of Leonard movies, but Life Of Crime is a fine addition to the cinematic penal colony.


Toronto: ‘Life of Crime’ Closes 38th Fest, Audience Awards Announcement Sunday (Analysis)

THR’s awards analyst dissects the Elmore Leonard adaptation, which stars Jennifer Aniston, and identifies the top contenders for the fest’s most coveted prizes.

TORONTO — The 38th Toronto International Film Festival — my seventh — came to a close on Saturday night, following 10 days of wall-to-wall programming, with the world premiere of Daniel Schechter’s Life of Crime. The crime-dramedy, which Schechter adapted from the 1978 novel The Switch, by the great novelist Elmore Leonard (who died just three weeks ago), stars Jennifer Aniston, John Hawkes, Tim Robbins, Mos Def, Will Forte, Isla Fisher and Mark Boone, Jr. It was greeted with lots of laughs throughout its 90-minute runtime and warm applause at the end. And it will probably reach mainstream audiences next year, when Lionsgate/Roadside, which picked up its U.S. distribution rights during the fest, is expected to release it.

Life of Crime, a prequel to Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (1997) that’s set 15 years earlier but revolves around the same two bumbling ex-cons, is Schechter’s third feature. While introducing the film, he revealed that he had written a spec script of the story before he ever owned its rights and then sent it to Leonard for feedback. Leonard, to his surprise, read it and offered not only positive feedback but also the rights that Schechter desired — provided that Schechter could assemble a cast worthy of it. Schechter did just that, shot the film and submitted it to TIFF. Leonard died before he could see the finished film, but he was aware of its acceptance into the festival and its assignment of the closing night slot, Schechter said, and was very excited about that. “This is my love letter to him,” the writer-director told the crowd, which included members of the Leonard family.

The film itself is a bit out there: set in late-1970s Detroit, it follows two ex-cons (Hawkes and Def) who, with the aid of a neo-Nazi (Boone), decide to kidnap the wife (Aniston) of a real estate developer (Robbins) for the purposes of extorting a $1 million ransom from him. The problem is that the man can’t stand his wife, is cheating on her with another woman (Fisher) and plans to divorce her anyway, and is therefore not particularly inclined to cooperate. The woman, meanwhile, is not particularly happy with him anyway, and finds herself being pursued by a married loser who belongs to the same country club (Forte), while pining for some better alternative. Over the course of this farce — which tonally feels something like Burn After Reading (2008), which premiered at this fest a few years ago — she ends up bonding with one of her kidnappers.

Interestingly, this isn’t the only film to play at this fest that focuses on a complex relationship that develops between a kidnapped woman and her male kidnapper: Jason Reitman’s Labor Day does, as well. It’s hard to know how to feel about films like these in a post-Ariel Castro world. Both films have moments that are a bit uncomfortable, but also truly laugh-out-loud moments — Life of Crime, I dare say, even more than the higher-profile Labor Day. Anyway, Aniston’s name should get people in seats — as we’ve seen this month with the film We’re the Millers — even if she doesn’t have all that much to do in this film but look pretty. As for awards, I suppose there’s a chance the HFPA might eventually fill one of its musical-or-comedy slots with it, but who knows? We’ll have to see what its competition looks like when it comes out.


Five Questions with Life of Crime Director Daniel Schechter

After two small-scale New York indie features, set in the world of standup comedy (2007?s Goodbye Baby) and low-budget film (2012?s Supporting Characters), writer/director Daniel Schechter has made the unlikely but extremely welcome step up to a very different kind of movie. Life of Crime, which closes the Toronto International Film Festival this weekend, is not only based on a novel (The Switch) by the late, great Elmore Leonard but boasts a high-caliber cast featuring Jennifer Aniston, Tim Robbins, Isla Fisher, John Hawkes, Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def), Will Forte and Mark Boone Jr. A dark crime comedy, Schechter’s film is about two recently released jailbirds, Louis (Hawkes) and Ordell (Bey) who devise a scheme to kidnap Mickey Dawson (Aniston), the wife of Detroit property developer Frank Dawson (Robbins) — not realizing that Frank has a mistress (Fisher) and would be quite happy to have his wife disappear. Filmmaker asked Schechter a handful of questions via email about his new film, Leonard and how to recreate 70s Detroit today.

Filmmaker: What were the circumstances that allowed you to make the leap from a small-scale, low-budget ensemble piece like Supporting Characters to Life of Crime? Were you the originator of the project?

Schecter: I basically did something that almost never works and I was advised strongly not to do, which was take a best-selling author’s book, adapt it on spec, and hope whoever owned the rights would let me make it. What I didn’t anticipate was that it took about two years to track down who actually owned it (turned out Leonard just got the rights back from a 30-year option in 2009) and then it took another year to convince Leonard’s team I was the guy.

Filmmaker: What kind of contact did you have with Leonard? Did he get to read your screenplay?

Schecter: We had one or two phone chats and then I was able to spend a weekend with him in his hometown, which was incredible for me. We talked a lot about films, his books and films based on his books. We drank beer, ate some good food and I did my best to impress upon him that I had a pretty innate understanding of his tone and how his adaptations should be done. I think he could never really let go of his skepticism but also his hopes for it being a great film. He never got to see it, so who knows what he may have thought. I don’t know if he ever read the script.

Filmmaker: What were the biggest challenges of making such a big step up in budget?

Schecter: The film I made previously (Supporting Characters) was made for $60k in 12 shooting days, so for the most part, stepping up was a removal of the challenges I normally faced. But I’d also say considering we shot this film in 26 days, I didn’t really get the slower-paced production I was hoping for or expecting. It was a very aggressive schedule that left zero room for error and that was fairly terrifying, but I had awesome producers and crew who held my hand through it all. To me now though, the greatest luxury you can have isn’t a great camera or toys or a large crew… it’s time.

Filmmaker: How easy was it to recreate 1970s Detroit? Did you actually shoot in Detroit?

Schecter: It wasn’t easy. The two largest locations in this film were two very different houses that needed to be impressive, photogenic, appropriate, available and then, of course, period. In fact, one of them had to look more 50?s than 70?s. Even if you could remove every stick of furniture and re-wallpaper the house, what about the stoves, cabinets, tiling, counters, etc.? Mike Hartel did the locations and hit a home run and saved our asses. I still marvel at what we found and how we got it done. Love those locations so much. But it was hard to get wide shots of exteriors, hard to avoid modern cars, it was expensive to rent old cars, and dress extras, re-decorate homes/locations… but it was all worth it. I’m in love with the look of the film and all the work my costume designer (Anna Terrazas) and production designer (Inbal Weinberg) did. I’ll work with them forever if they’ll have me; they went above and beyond and seriously delivered something special. No, we didn’t shoot in Detroit. we shot in Stamford and Greenwich, CT for the areas in and around Detroit, MI. To my eye, after spending that weekend around Leonard’s neighborhood and Detroit, they were a great match.

Filmmaker: What was the most important thing you learned while making Life of Crime?

Schecter: Easy: Elmore Leonard is a genius whose talent can’t be overstated.

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