“There goes Channel 14 … going the wrong way”
Shot at the end of 2008 with promotional materials cropping up during the following year, the only fathomable reason I can think for the film Takers being released in the second half of 2010 is actor/producer Chris Brown’s extra-curricular activities. Honestly, besides the uninspired poster residing at our theatres for a full year, I’ve been looking forward to the heist flick. Playing like Ocean’s 11, but from the streets, you can’t deny the style at work right from the start. Gordon Jennings (Idris Elba), John Rahway (Paul Walker), Jake Attica (Michael Ealy), and his little brother Jesse (Brown) find themselves on an abandoned floor above an LA bank, ready to pull off an intricately detailed plan without weaknesses, actually using the police and media’s response time to their advantage. Fast-forward to their expensive tailored suits and their private room at a swank club with cigars and scotch and you can’t help but think Clooney, Pitt, and Damon, dripping cool confidence—old friends and business partners, able to once more retire for a year until the next job.
I shouldn’t say there are no weak points, however, because Brown’s Jesse is not only pretty bad onscreen, hoping he can flash his smile and compensate for a lack of talent, but he is also the new guy on the team and a bit raw in the ways of keeping a low profile. No matter how washed-up or beaten Jack Welles (Matt Dillon) seems on his police beat, he and partner Eddie (Jay Hernandez) won’t rest until they can piece something together on these faceless criminals, even with Internal Affairs on their backs. It’s all made a little easier once the thieves decide to go against their cardinal rule of one score a year, getting greedy at a can’t miss opportunity from an ex-team member straight off a five year stint after getting caught their last job together. Ghost (Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris) doesn’t hesitate to search out his old crew for help on an armored car heist—the same vehicles that got him pinched before—armed with Russian intelligence covering every angle. Could the endeavor be too good to be true? Could Ghost be after revenge and a payday to make up for the five years lost and a girlfriend now engaged to Jake? Or is he just looking to get back in the action?
John Luessenhop’s film likes to play with the audience’s preconceptions of these characters, turning them on their heads as the plot progresses. There are dirty cops, charitable criminals (as though donating a percentage of each score to ‘the usual charities’ assuages some guilt), siblings, rival teams, junkies, and a heavy lean on the sentimentality of family. These guys have worked a long time together, knowing each other’s roles and playing to their strengths in order to be successful, most maintaining clean records in the meanwhile. Ealy’s Jake may in fact be closer ‘brothers’ with Hayden Christensen’s A.J. than his own flesh and blood, the duo hatching plans and setting C4 like professionals—it is their job. Elba and Walker act like the father figures to the rest, the former looking to make one more payday in order to leave it behind and take his drug-addled sister (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) back home to their native country and the latter taking over the reins of the operation. They want to be cautious of their old friend, he never did rat them out. So, if the new plan looks good, what reason do they have to doubt his loyalty?
Besides Brown—who actually isn’t onscreen very much, so his novice skill set isn’t too much of a detriment—everyone else does a great job with their roles. Christensen is kind of scary with what appears to be absolute remorselessness, willing to do whatever is necessary, laughing along the way; Walker has a tendency to appear stiff at times, but for the most part does what’s asked of him, owning a later sequence having no problem taking charge of a situation gone awry; Elba channels his business-like crime boss from “The Wire”, retaining his British accent this time, commanding respect and always thinking rather than reacting; and T.I. surprisingly shines as Ghost, a good mix of hard edges and charisma, pulling off the sly grins and attitude, positioning pieces on the board and lending great comic relief as he commentates the entire climatic scene of explosions and gunfire. If there are any standouts, however, I must look to Dillon’s cop, a father and partner doing his best, trying to find a balance in life with the only job he’s ever known and Ealy, who has been steadily rising through the acting ranks into a reliable fit for any role. These two have the most to lose and, as such, bring the most complete performances.
Takers becomes an interesting meld of character study and entertaining crime drama as the stakes get higher and things begin to unravel. Luessenhop and company may go a bit too far with the theatrics, though, bringing in an operatic slo-motion finale, begging us as viewers to accept we’ve seen some grandiose work rather than the effective thriller we have. You can’t fault him for thinking big, but I did feel as though the film was about to end three times before it actually did, one more emotionally wrought closing of a character arc after another. He does have a good handle on showing us what we need to start caring for these characters, however, even if they are the ‘bad guys’, while also bringing some high-speed adrenaline rushes with extended chase scenes of cops versus criminals to bookend the action. A few long shots might have helped it from being so disjointed as the close-ups and quick cuts during a ten-minute parkour chase through LA can make you dizzy. I would love to know if Brown did his own stunts for it, because they are impressive. I thought no, but my friend relayed how he was a dancer and might in fact have been able to make the leaps and jumps. If only the camera stopped long enough for us to find out.
Takers 6/10 | ★ ★ ½
 (l to r) Paul Walker, Idris Elba and Hayden Christensen star in Screen Gems’ action thriller TAKERS. Photo By: Suzanne Tenner
 Tip “T.I.” Harris (left) and Michael Ealy star in Screen Gems’ action thriller TAKERS. Photo By: Suzanne Tenner