Ungar’s Crime Drama Organically Thrills Despite Mixed Signals

Dec 15, 2022

Armed bank robberies are some of the most fascinating crime stories in film and television. Specifically, ones in which no victims are hurt always draw in national viewership and intrigue. Canada’s “Flying Bandit,” for example, was known as the infamous robber of almost 50 banks over a period of three years, committing a heist in all Canadian provinces but two. Director Allan Ungar deemed Gilbert Galvan Jr.’s story as a must-make after an initial read of the script. With ties to a richly historical country like Canada, what better director was there to visually tell the alluring story that shocked the North American country to no end? Ungar’s Bandit entertains because of genre alone, but the ambiguous messaging leaves much to be desired.

Bandit’s story follows Gilbert Galvan Jr. (Josh Duhamel), a charming career criminal who escapes from a U.S. prison in Michigan to find himself settling across the border in Canada, where he assumes the identity of Robert Whiteman. After falling in love with Andrea (Elisha Cuthbert), he turns to robbing banks and discovers that he’s actually good at it. Gilbert (aka, Robert) begins flying around the country robbing multiple cities in a day, eventually catching the attention of national news outlets that dub him “The Flying Bandit.” Even with the police on his trail, particularly the persistent detective Snydes (Nestor Carbonell), who wants nothing more than to bring him down, Robert’s lust for money keeps him going towards his next big score.

Related: Bandit Trailer: Josh Duhamel & Mel Gibson Star In Bank Robber True Story

Josh Duhamel as Gilbert Galvan Jr. in Bandit

Based on the novel by Robert Knuckle and adapted from Kraig Wenman’s screenplay, Bandit offers organic entertainment despite some questionable directing choices that restrict viewers from using their own imaginations. In its totality, one may walk away from Ungar’s feature caring more for the real Gilbert Galvan Jr. than what he may deserve, but the narrative gets a little too carried away for its own good. In frequent examples, Ungar often incorporates “this really happened” notes throughout sequences that seem too wild, but their inclusion often disrupts the raw humor and cleverness of the script. These insertions may have worked if done so with more subtlety, but unfortunately, it calls into question the sincerity of the larger portion of the storytelling.

Ungar’s crime story includes natural thrills and entertainment a film like this so often does. However, there’s an empathetic approach by which he frames the story, leading viewers to believe that there’s a sense of admiration for the robbery veteran. Perhaps that’s due to Josh Duhamel’s uncanny ability to play Galvan Jr. with tenacious charm, making it easy to develop even a modicum of interest in his livelihood. Yet, there’s never an objective glimpse into Galvan’s life without these side feelings creeping up at every turning corner. Ungar doesn’t leave much up to the viewers to decide on the notorious bank robber, which tends to make for a long, preachy experience about judging a man at the lowest moments of his life.

Josh Duhamel and Elisha Cuthbert in Bandit

Part of that is due to the main love story between Duhamel’s Galvan Jr./Robert Whiteman and Cuthbert’s Andrea. At one point in the film, Whiteman contemplates carrying out his first heist after coming to the realization that he cannot provide for Andrea. Admittedly, it’s an easy story to sell, mostly because it leans into the notion that sometimes people do bad things for good reasons. And yet, it doesn’t reflect the real bank robber’s mindset in wanting to rob banks simply for the money. On the other hand, the chemistry between Duhamel and Cuthbert is exceptional, so watching a crime thriller develop into a love story with these two at the helm makes for an enjoyable watching experience.

Still, everything about Bandit, as presented, feels like an indulgent way of selling its viewers on the “down-and-out guy just needs a way out” trope that similar films have often tried to offer. But if that narrative was truly the case, there was an alternative way to accomplish the goal. “No one’s born bad,” according to Galvan Jr. in the opening sequence of Ungar’s feature. But there’s never a moment in which Josh Duhamel’s character shows any remorse. As a result, this contradictory messaging in the script — an empathetic villain with a lust for crime and love — rarely lands properly despite it being an entertaining feat.

Bandit released in select theaters and VOD on September 23. The film is 126 minutes long and rated R for language and some sexual material/nudity.

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