Review: Band of Robbers
This review originally ran as part of LA Film Fest
PLOT: A modern day re-telling of the adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. The two are now grown up and still searching for a hidden treasure, one they seem to have looked for their entire lives.
REVIEW: The idea of presenting a modern story based on Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and his best pal Huckleberry “Huck” Finn is an intriguing one. This is especially true telling their tale as a modern comedic crime caper. However, it must have certainly been a difficult task placing these iconic characters as young men who are still finding their way in the world today. Thankfully, writer/director siblings Aaron and Adam Nee have successfully reinvigorated this story of friendship and brotherly bonding with the wonderfully witty BAND OF ROBBERS. Quirky, cunning, and even a little heartwarming, this is a perfect example of taking a classic story and offering it to a brand new audience.
The story introduces us to Huck Finn (Kyle Gallner) who has just been released from prison. Once out he is reunited with his old friend Tom Sawyer (Adam Nee) who has since gone into law enforcement. Yet their childhood adventure of searching for hidden treasure has not faded. Soon, the two gather a couple of friends - Joe Harper (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Ben Rogers (Hannibal Buress) - and try and find millions of dollars of gold that may or may not exist. Yet there is somebody else searching for this hidden stash, a fellow by the name of Injun Joe (Stephen Lang) and he and his goons are taking this search to dangerous levels. And if you know the story of Tom Sawyer, one can’t forget about Becky Thatcher (Melissa Benoist) - Tom Sawyer’s crush is now a rookie cop as well as his partner.
First off you have to hand it to the Brothers Nee. BAND OF ROBBERS is a infectiously warm tribute to Mark Twain and his tales of childhood adventure. If you aren’t familiar with Tom and Huck and their wild and woolly tales, you may not get some of the clever reinventions of the stories on display here, but it will not hurt the enjoyment of the film. It is an absolute treat to see how the charismatic Sawyer can convince others to do his bidding - even the painting of the fence makes it in this flick. While this is a modern story, there is a real sense of love to the original fables from which this is based. All of it is creatively brought to life with a sense of wonder and a little bit of danger as well - much like Twain would have done.
As charming as the story is, it would have not worked without the right casting. Both Kyle Gallner and Adam Nee are perfect together as the unlikely best friends looking for a little more than life has to offer. In fact, the entire ensemble adds to the heart of this tall tale of friendship and crime. Benoist is terrific as Becky, even if her character seems slightly too dense to be a police officer - yet that in itself is sort of sweetly played thanks to the talented actress. And Stephen Lang is equal parts creepy and menacing, and he makes for one fun villain to watch. There is a real energy here with all the performances and it is very entertaining to watch Gallner, Nee and the Band of Robbers played by Gubler, Buress, and Johnny Pemberton as the odd man out Tommy Barnes. Hell, I wanted to join the gang.
It is more than a little refreshing to see this bit of Americana explored in modern cinema. It also helps that the Nee brothers and cinematographer Noah Rosenthal give such a rich look to it all. This is a beautiful flick that takes full advantage of some seriously gorgeous landscape, as well as a haunting cemetery with secrets and a few seedy locations. There are hints of early Coen Brothers mixed with Wes Anderson and a little bit of absurdity that makes for a more than engaging watch. While I’d love to see Aaron and Andy Nee tackle something new, it would be fun to see where their take on Huck and Tom would end up years later.
BAND OF ROBBERS is a refreshing bit of cinematic mischief. Both Kyle Gallner and the film’s co-writer/director Adam Nee give two sensational performances. If Mark Twain were alive today, he’d probably be quite pleased. The film is funny and tense with genuine aw shucks moments which the Nee brothers have brought to this reimagining of a classic story. It may be a little strange, yet that is what makes this Band of Robbers so darn irresistible.