• Art of the Steal, The



    Directed by: Jonathan Sobol
    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment
    Released on: June 10, 2014
    Cast: Kurt Russell, Jay Baruchel, Matt Dillon
    Purchase from Amazon
    2013

    The Movie


    The Art of the Steal is a comedic heist film from Canadian writer/director Jonathan Sobol (The Beginner's Guide to Endings). The film stars Kurt Russell as Crunch Calhound, a poor man's Evil Knieval and a retired wheelman for a crew of art thieves. After his brother Nicky (Matt Dillon) gives Crunch up to the police and makes him the fall guy for a job gone wrong in Warsaw, Crunch spends 5 ½ years in a Polish prison. Now working as a daredevil motorcyclist in Canada, Crunch isn't so much jumping through flaming hoops on his motorcycle as he is taking petty cash to crash his motorcycle. While resting at his home in Niagra Falls with his girlfriend Lola (Katheryn Winnick of TV's “Vikings”) and his apprentice Francie (Jay Baruchel), Crunch is held up at gunpoint by a guy who looks like a pirate and was recently ripped off by Nicky in Quebec. Eager to get payback for those lost 5 ½ years, Crunch and Francie seek Nicky out, only to learn that he's got the score of a lifetime planned out and wants to put the crew back together.

    It turns out that Nicky has a stolen copy of the second book ever printed by Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press. However, the buyer of the book is in Detroit, and the crew somehow needs to smuggle it across the border. Crunch comes up the idea of the Trojan Horse, and while at first Nicky scoffs at the idea, eventually they to smuggle the art across the border in another piece of art. In this case, a giant four-foot high vagina in the shape of a cube. The plot thickens even more when Nicky gets the idea to fly the crew's expert forger, Guy de Cornet (Chris Diamantopolous), in from France to produce expert fakes of the book, which they will then sell to even more buyers under the pretense that they're buying the original. Meanwhile, a prickish Interpol agent named Bick (Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones) and Samuel Winter (Terence Stamp), a former art thief turned Interpol informer, are right on the trail of Crunch's crew.

    For the most part, the cast here are playing either ludicrous sleazebags, which Matt Dillon always does very well (at one point he steals a wallet from an 8-year old girl), or likeable guys with a few rough edges like Russell and Baruchel. As Crunch's apprentice Francie, Jay Baruchel plays a hipster tough guy with half-sleeve tattoos and an usually long wallet chain, and it doesn't really work because he still talks and sounds like nerdy Jay Baruchel. Costuming aside, Baruchel is funny and if you liked him in This Is The End or The Sorcerer's Apprentice then you'll enjoy him here too as he's basically playing the same character in a different change of clothes. Kurt Russell should be the main draw here for any fans his past work. It's been seven years since he was Stuntman Mike in Death Proof, and somehow Russell has not only stayed handsome, he's as magnetic a screen personality as he ever was. His voice sounds even better as he's gotten older, haing become more gravelly and raw. If nothing else, it's Russell's rugged voice and cocky swagger in the film that proves he's got at least one last great action role left in him. He's possibly the only actor in Hollywood who could pull off a character named Crunch Calhoun and make him not only believable, but cool.

    The Art of the Steal manages to take the Hollywood heist movie formula of “putting the band back together for that last big score” and make it feel fresh and funny. After Ocean's Eleven and its sequels drained all the enthusiasm I had for this kind of movie, The Art of the Steal charmed me into liking the heist comedy again. Maybe it's because I'm Canadian and therefore biased, but I'd like to think it's because the film's script was tightly written, the cast played off each other really well, and film made me laugh like hell. A lot of heist films rely on that old staple of the genre: bank jobs. Thankfully, this film deviates from that trope by focusing on the subject of art theft, not simply as a MacGuffin to move the plot along but as a metaphor for why some people are compelled to do something (whether that means painting, or stealing paintings) for its own sake. In doing so, The Art of the Steal manages to be a heist film that is as much about art thieves as it is about art appreciation.

    Audio/Video/Extras

    The Art of the Steal sneaks its way onto Blu-ray in 2.40:1 aspect ratio with an impressive MPEG-4 AVC encode. As it was filmed during the winter months in Hamilton and Niagara Falls, Ontario, the film has a muted, gray and white color palette. However, when the action moves to Niagara Falls' colorful downtown, the vibrant background really stands out. The film utilizes color in a very purposeful, restrained way, so whether it's the sepia toned flashback to the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911, or the pink vagina cube, these moments of deviation from the film's cold color palette really leave an impression, and are nicely reproduced in this transfer. Since the film was shot on digital, the film looks great in HD. There's a good amount of fine detail, and you make out just about every hair in Russell's stubble or line on his face during during close-ups. Black levels look solid throughout. While it's not the most visually striking film, this is a very detailed transfer of a film that looks much better than it probably cost to produce.

    The 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track presents a lossless audio presentation that provides a nicely balanced sound mix without being overly dynamic or layered. Audio in the film typically comes from one or two sources at a time, with dialogue coming in clearly from the center channel and either sound effects or the film's score coming in from the surrounding speakers. Dialogue is never overwhelmed by the music, and sound effects are limited to specific on-camera actions. The audio is never overly dynamic and it won't give your 5.1 system a workout but dialogue in particular sounds very good and you can really hear the texture of the actor's voices, particularly Russell, Dillon, Baruchel and Stamp.
    English SDH and Spanish subtitles are available on this disc.

    Extras include Feature Commentary with Writer/Director Jonathan Sobol and Producer Nicholas Tabarrok (of Darius Films), Doing the Crime: The Making of The Art of the Steal, and The Making Of “The Theft of the Mona Lisa.” The Feature Commentary provides a lot of trivia about the making of the film, but Sobol and Tabarrok two don't have a whole lot of chemistry so it's a pretty dry listen. Sobol is clearly passionate about the project, but Tabarrok doesn't have much to add on top of what he says and the commentary lacks a conversational feel and seems like the two are just reading prepared notes. It would have been a much better commentary if Matt Dillon, Kurt Russell or even Jay Baruchel had participated. The half-hour long making of feature begins with director Sobol talking about the challenges and process of scriptwriting and making the film, but before it gets too technical, cast interviews with Russell, Baruchel and Dillon lighten up the proceedings with a few laughs. Overall, I'd recommend fans of the movie watch this making of segment either before or instead of the Feature Commentary as its fairly in-depth but not nearly as dry. Finally, the Making Of “The Theft of the Mona Lisa” segment offers a brief, five-minute glimpse into the film's amusing, expressionistic flashback sequence.

    The Final Word

    If you're burnt out on heist films or find them too formulaic in general, then I would avoid The Art of the Steal, but fans of Kurt Russell will want to check out the film for his charming, likeable performance as Crunch Calhoun. If you're a fan of this kind of film, then don't let The Art of the Steal sneak under your radar. It's a very funny, well-written, and Canadian take on the heist comedy.


    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!