Wednesday, July 20, 2011

3 paragraphs on The Anderson Tapes

1971, Sidney Lumet -- Netflix

(spoilers ahead)

The general rhythm of a heist movie is such: getting the band together; plotting out and planning for the heist; enacting the plan; overcoming the obstacles; getting away with it (if it's a lighthearted heist romp) or things going completely sour (if it's more of a heist drama). The odd thing about the Anderson Tapes is it's in the lighthearted vein, but it ends the tragic way. In a genre that's continued to play into its tropes, it's interesting to find a film from 1971 that so casually and unceremoniously played with the convention.

Sean Connery is Duke Anderson, the Anderson in question, a recent ex-con freed after a 10 year conviction for robbery, who wastes no time getting right back into the swing of things upon release. His old girlfriend Ingrid has spent the intervening years with a series of sugar daddies who take care of her, including buying her a swanky New York apartment overlooking Central Park. Anderson has it in mind to rob all the other well-to-do tenants in one shot and starts getting a gang together. The "tapes" in question refer to all the different monitoring equipment that various law enforcement agencies (the BNDD (the old FDA), FBI, IRS and a private investigator) have tracking not Anderson himself but the people he's associating with. There's a heavy emphasis on "big brother" which is rather foretelling in a film from '71, and it provides the film a modern relevance. I'm unsure if, given the time period, the film was concerned with how invasive monitoring technology can be on our lives, or some sort of polemic on how the good guys are watching, or if there was some larger commentary on the way increasingly prevalent communications technology impacted then-modern life.

Lumet splices into scenes of Anderson with his gang or his girl with shots of cameras, monitors, tape reels, microphones and scenes with the people operating them or reporting to their higher ups, providing a background group of stories more or less irrelevant to the rest of the plot, but otherwise building the environment Lument wants. Unfortunately these shots or scenes are punctuated by a grating, invasive score from Quincey Jones, who was, I believe in an attempt to mirror the film, using advanced-for-the-time electronic sound generating equipment in his music. The script unsuccessfully alternates between bouncy and heavy, and neither the score nor editing help distinguish the two. All the cast for that matter equally seem to have trouble negotiating that line, though Connery is given a couple of great speeches inciting anarchy which he delivers as if hes a classic bullshitter bu unconvinced himself. It's an interesting timepiece that has themes that have aged far better than could be expected, but what didn't work for it in 1971 doesn't work any better 40 years later.