It’s close but no cigar for first time writer/director Charles Oliver as he bashes his unfortunate audience with a preachy and one-dimensional exposition of revenge wearing restoration clothing
Charles Oliver takes himself entirely too seriously in this film. The first thing the seasoned indie viewer will think after 30 minutes of this flagellation is Asia Argento’s “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things,” another film where the viewer has to work hard to find the silver lining on the cloud. But whereas “Heart is Deceitful” had a sort of European artfulness and Olympic scale to the corrupt and rotting personalities in it, “Take” has only Jeremy Renner.
Not that Renner is not up to the task. After all, he was in “Heart is Deceitful” and so has practiced with the best. But he is hamstrung by the self-important message of this film and the club-handed delivery penned, and helmed, by Oliver. Too much time is spent showing us how criminals are forged from normal people and then we are supposed to feel a revenge motive and relief when we forgive. Most viewers will probably have the hardest time forgiving Charles Oliver for his responsibility in taking our money and then making us sit through this crucifixion.
Minnie Driver is similarly limited in the story she is to tell. She is a hard working mom with a problem child and a husband in a poverty wage teaching job. Are 7th grade teachers poverty stricken? To the point where their wives work at house-cleaning jobs otherwise taken only by illegal aliens? In any event, Ana’s and Marty’s eight year old son Jesse is hyperactive, has ADD and is getting thrown out of school because he bothers other kids. Plus he is going to suffer at the hands of Jeremy Renner’s Saul, a gambling addict who couldn’t hold on to a spare $20 bill if it was tattooed onto his arm.
So there you have it. A cast consisting of a seemingly stable enough school teacher who can’t support a wife and one child and whose kid is getting kicked out of school. Add to this his wife who can hardly clean houses, the perp who is not only a gambling addict but seemingly devoid of any competence in anything, whatsoever, and the ADD problem child, and the perfect guilt trip film is born.
But the film is not so much about guilt as it is about revenge; why we want to have revenge and why we shouldn’t get it. Unfortunately, this message comes much too late in the film. Too much of the time is spent in a very tedious witnessing of four very tedious lives. When the final climax comes, instead of amazed at the triumph of Restorative Justice we are simply glad for the end of this long-winded display of existential incompetence.
Shot in the barren desert of the Southwest, Tristan Whitman’s camera work is spare and lean. The blank and washed out desert backgrounds alternate nicely with the barren interiors of the depressing hovels that house the characters. The desert resonates with the void that is created in a person’s heart when they are consumed with hatred and the desire for revenge. There is not room for anything remotely resembling human emotion. So goes the life of Ana until her last final showdown with brain dead perp Saul.
Adding to the sins in the “taking itself too seriously” department is the film’s lust for preaching. The entire build-up appears to be aimed at a message that crime victims should be able to confront the criminals responsible for their pain. Especially, that surviving family members should be able to “confront” convicted criminals with their crimes and, in fact, that such confrontation is justified and entirely moral and ethical. In other words, survivors of crimes should be able to torture convicted criminals for a certain amount of time before the condemned are led off to prison or the gas chamber.
This legalized torture is not to be mitigated depending on how brainless and lacking in alternatives was the criminal in the first place. After being brought up in a life of abuse and then, predictably, abusing others, the criminal is subjected to the final chapter of abuse at the hands of the mothers of the world. If this sounds like something out of Reader’s Digest, it is because it is something out of Reader’s Digest. It is called Restorative Justice. After sitting through this film for 99 minutes, you will wonder what you did to deserve it.
MPAA: Rated R for some violent content with intense emotional impact