Time for a confession: today, I am slightly cheating. I have seen some of this film before. It was on one of the satellite movie channels in the middle of the night about 12 years ago. I was working in a casino at the time and on my nights off I would sit up watching movies until sunrise. I stumbled across the last half hour of this little gem by random chance at about 3 in the morning and I have never been able to find it again since. Then one day just a couple of weeks ago I stumbled across it by random chance again, this time on Lovefilm. And because it is such a criminally underseen film, I just have to share it with you.
Will anyone get there alive?
Claire and Nick are the most trusted employees of the gangster known only as The Boss (not Springsteen). When a bagman doesn’t make his delivery, they’re the ones sent out to find him. But it seems the bagman has been set up by someone trying to make a move on the business, and after Boss’ girlfriend Kitty runs away, things start to really unravel. Sharp suits, sharp wit and lots and lots of bullets ensue.
Montana is a film that was unfairly swallowed up by the wave of post-Tarantino crime film knockoffs that peppered the mid-to-late nineties indie arena. This stands apart from its contemporaries however, by taking the revolutionary step of having an actual story populated by real – and, crucially, sympathetic – characters as opposed to a parade of dickheads trying to out-do each other with increasingly tedious pop culture references before getting shot. If there is one other flick from that period that comes close to this one, it’s the Christopher Walken-starring Suicide Kings. Actually, the two would make quite the double-bill. Excuse me; I’m going to go order Suicide Kings.
Right, I’m back. Where was I? The cast. Oh lordy. For a low-budget, blackly comedic crime film by first time writers and director, this flick has managed to assemble a humdinger of a cast. Kyra Sedgwick (who also produced) plays Claire, next to the effortlessly cool Stanley Tucci as her partner Nick. Both are perfect for their roles. Claire is both the most deadly hitter and the only woman in The Head Cheese’s organisation, and she plays down her femininity to a certain degree, but whether digging her own grave or crouched behind the sofa with guns blazing, Sedgwick has never been sexier. When she’s on screen –which is about 80 of the film’s 95 minutes – you just can’t take your eyes off her. I could watch her play this part in a hundred movies. Any of you who were here back when I reviewed Julie & Julia will know how much of a Tucci fan I am, and this is another great performance as Nick, the sharpest dresser and sharpest shooter since Martin Q. Blank. These characters work because they have depth. They have history. That’s something that only comes with the combination of a well-written script and good actors who know what they’re doing, and this movie has both of those things in spades.
The cast is filled out by Philip Seymour Hoffman as the organisation’s slimy accountant, John Ritter as a “life coach” hawking his own self-help books on late night infomercials, Robbie Coltrane as The Boss, and Ethan Embry as his hot-headed, spoiled son; the Uday to Coltrane’s Saddam (for example). And then there is Robin Tunney. Tunney plays Kitty, a prostitute who was traded to El Jefe and is now his live-in mistress, forbidden to interact with any of the men in the organisation due to the Big Kahuna’s pathological jealousy. She spends her days sitting around in tiny dresses and working through the Head Honcho’s admittedly impressive library while slowly gathering the courage for another escape attempt. It is her latest try that, as an unknowing part of a power play in the organisation, becomes the jumping off point for the main story. When it comes to characterisation, Tunney has more to do in this one film than in four seasons of The Mentalist and she does a great job. Everyone does a great job in fact.
This and a short from 2008 are the only credits I can find for director Jennifer Leitzes. I don’t know what she was doing before or what she has done since but on the strength of this movie, she deserves a much fuller IMDb page. This flick is very well done stylistically. The story unfolds in an unhurried but inevitable way, and Leitzes knows when to push it onwards and when to just let it happen. This is a film of long shots and long takes that build a rhythm as each scene develops. The opening scene for example is a single crane shot that wouldn’t be out of place in a Scorsese picture. The film was written by Jon and Erich Hoeber who, like their director, followed up Montana with a big patch of nothing until the Kate Beckinsale flick Whiteout in 2009, then RED in 2010 and the recent Battleship. I haven’t seen their latest work yet, but anyone who caught RED knows that these two can write both action scenes and witty, naturalistic dialogue. That’s another strength that this movie has; it isn’t over-written. It has rhythm and flair, but never feels forced. It is also hilarious when it wants to be.
For a film that is almost fifteen years old, it has barely aged at all. Watching it now, it could have been made three years ago or twenty years ago. The only giveaways are the somewhat clunky phones that occasionally put in an appearance. But it’s like that old saying: fashions come and go, but style lasts forever. If you take only one recommendation from me for the rest of the time I’m doing this, please see this film. I’m working on the likely assumption that you probably haven’t already done so, but feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.