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Film Review: Heist movie 'The Art of the Steal' is less than artful

March 14, 2014|By Andy Klein
  • Kenneth Welsh, Kurt Russell, Jay Baruchel, and Chris Diamantopoulos in "The Art of the Steal."
Kenneth Welsh, Kurt Russell, Jay Baruchel, and Chris… (Courtesy of Radius-TWC )

Except for a few dodgy plot tricks, “The Art of the Steal” is a pleasantly modest entry in that overdone genre, the heist film. It's got “Canadian production” written all over it, from writer/director Jonathan Sobol to a cast that includes Kenneth Welsh, Jay Baruchel, Stephen McHattie, Jason Jones and Katheryn Winnick, among an essentially all-Canadian roster. The three big exceptions are the three best-known stars — Kurt Russell, Matt Dillon and Terence Stamp.

Nothing wrong with a Canadian production in general, though, presumably as a condition for various funds, the setting briefly switches to Quebec City for no particularly pressing reason. Well, if your production money depends on commercial placement, better it be for a province than a product.

Russell plays Crunch Calhoun, a stunt driver/art thief; ergo, he is the perfect “Wheel Man.” Crunch has just finished a prison sentence and plans to go straight — if deliberately taking dives during daredevil stunts counts as straight.

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Crunch is relaxing with his girlfriend, Lola (Winnick), and his “apprentice,” star-struck young Francie (Baruchel), when a thug beats him up, wanting to know where a certain stolen Seurat can be found. Our hero has no idea, until the thug mentions Crunch's half-brother and former partner in crime, Nicky Calhoun (Dillon). This is the self-same brother who is responsible for Crunch's prison time: six years earlier, Nicky, who has a greater number of prior convictions and therefore more to lose in court, gave up Crunch to save his own skin.

This has put a certain strain on their sibling love and trust. They meet up with Uncle Paddy (Welsh), their fence, to either find or sell the Seurat and/or commit a much more complex scheme involving a priceless Gutenberg volume. This is where the plot begins to get muddy. I think — but will not swear — that I understood the tangle of plans and betrayals and counter-betrayals at the time, even with the movie's constant geographical and temporal hopscotch. Trying to reconstruct it a few hours later — even with the help of copious notes — well, that's a whole different thing.

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