One day, muses Judge Paul Pritchard, John Leguizamo will give a performance to stand next to his work as Luigi in Super Mario Bros.. Until then, he does a pretty good job here.
Every Crime Has Its Punishment!
Proof, if ever it was needed, that karma is very much real is offered up in The Take. Having given Harrison Ford a bullet to the brain in Regarding Henry, John Leguizamo finds himself on the receiving end of a criminal's gun in director Brad Furman's low-budget cracker.
Facts of the Case
When the armored truck he drives for a living is the target of a violent gang, led by ruthless criminal Adell Baldwin (Tyrese Gibson, Transformers), family man Felix De La Pena (John Leguizamo, Super Mario Bros.) sees his life turned upside down.
Following his astonishing recovery from a bullet to the brain, Felix begins to rebuild his life, but soon discovers a growing violent side struggling to break out. As he spends his recuperation watching violent kung fu movies, the anger swells within Felix until he is well enough to hunt down those responsible, but at what cost?
Can a performance save a film? Or perhaps more relevant in the case of The Take, can a flawless central performance, backed up by a rock-solid supporting cast, elevate a film from a bargain-bin wannabe to a low-budget contender?
John Leguizamo offers up one of his finest performances to date as Felix De La Pena, a family man struggling to make ends meet as an armored truck driver. Following a brutal attack that sees Felix left for dead, Leguizamo goes above and beyond as a man who, now incapable of controlling his emotions, finds himself filled with rage and thirsty for revenge. As he becomes increasingly isolated from his loving family, Leguizamo is still able to show glimmers of the man we first met at the start of the movie, making his crumbling psyche even more tragic.
Also worthy of a mention is Rosie Perez (Perdita Durango) as Felix's wife, Marina. Perez delivers a suitably natural performance as a woman who, clearly terrified, not only by the attack on her husband, but also by the long-term implications on his behavior, fights to keep her family together in the face of adversity.
Jonas and Josh Pate's screenplay is truly a mixed bag, excelling in some areas, while scraping through on the good graces of its audience in others. While director Brad Furman, a first-time director who perhaps lacks the experience required, can't quite cover up the screenplay's shortcomings; however, he must be given credit for the performances he is able to draw out from his cast and for enriching the script's numerous high points with his obvious talent.
Although Furman and Co. waste no time in getting to the robbery that acts as the catalyst for the film's main storyline, he cleverly tells us all we need to know about the De La Pena family before the first gunshot is fired. While these scenes are perhaps a little clichéd, showing the family as tight-knit and only just about making ends meet, a sequence at the family dinner table, complete with jokes about crusty bed sheets, makes them instantly likable, meaning we become invested in these characters from the off.
Furman also shows a keen eye for the action set pieces that, though used sparsely, are undeniably effective. The robbery itself is a tense and gripping affair that, despite being seemingly a little too simple, going ahead without any real problems for the gang, is well-shot with a rightfully menacing performance from Gibson. Stepping up the action stakes is a masterfully shot chase sequence during the film's finale that takes everything that has gone before and distills it into 10 minutes of pure adrenaline.
Moving along at a fair old pace, The Take is an engaging portrait of a man driven to extreme measures. Although it never really offers up anything original, the film's focus on Felix's crumbling mind makes it stand out and cleverly stays clear of the Death Wish territory lesser works would succumb to.
Sony has offered up an impressive 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer for The Take that gives a gritty feel to proceedings. The palette is like something from a Vertigo comic book, washed out and grimy. Detail is good and the picture is reasonably sharp throughout. In terms of extras, you get a commentary from director Brad Furman and cinematographer Lukas Ettlin; while interesting, it lacks the flair to make it essential listening. The only other extra is a short behind-the-scenes featurette. I suppose, considering the low-budget origins of the movie, any extras at all should be seen as a bonus.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There's no getting away from the fact that, if you take away the quality of the performances on display here, you take away a whole chunk of what makes The Take so enjoyable.
As previously mentioned, the film's plot is a little on the shaky side, often too dependent on a number of contrivances and, if we're being honest, pure dumb decision-making by its characters, to move things forward. One standout moment that helps demonstrate my point is when Felix, by now fully aware that the police suspect him of being involved in the robbery, finds the dead body of his ex-colleague. Now, I know that this is a movie and that movie rule #78 clearly states that, upon discovery of a dead body, the character in question is required, by law, to manhandle the corpse, getting the deceased's blood on their person in the process, but please, it's such an obvious mistake to make it just irritates.
Similarly, the robbery itself requires a slight suspension of disbelief from its audience, Felix's survival from a bullet to the brain perhaps even more so.
The films visual style is also a possible area of concern. While I appreciate the gritty look, the combination of a washed-out palette and shaky-cam are likely to be headache inducing for others.
So, can a performance save a film? Judging by The Take the answer is…maybe. While Leguizamo's performance will most likely be what sticks with the viewer, the work of director Brad Furman and writers Jonas and Josh Pate cannot be discounted. Clearly the collective hearts of the director and writers is on the aftermath of the attack on the De La Pena family, and when the film focuses on that area, it soars.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Director Brad Furman and Cinematographer Lukas Ettlin
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