Editor’s Notes: The Bag Man opens in limited theatrical release today, March 7th.
Pride can be awfully difficult. No, I am not going on a diatribe on “the sin of pride” or something equally as entitled, so you can quietly unclench; but, in short, no one likes a bragger. I do not deny that having good things happen to you is a fantastic experience, but proceeding to walk around with a puffed-up chest like some kind of chicken hawk to society’s Foghorn Leghorn, is universally bothersome. The one thing that could make this incessant self-praise just that little bit more annoying is when in actuality you have nothing of note to be so superlatively proud of. Strutting about as if you have cured cancer, when all you did was open a bottle of Advil. The Bag Man is a cinematic Henery Hawk.
…The Bag Man, despite its multiple complications, it never truly rises above this base simplicity. And boy does it muck up the waters with needless complexity.
Jack (John Cusack) knows how to follow instructions. Near the end of his life of crime, he is persuaded to take one last job. The job? Pick up a bag and wait at a motel for criminal kingpin Dragna (Robert De Niro) to come pick it up; under no circumstances is Jack to look inside the bag. If he follows these simple instructions, he will earn himself a healthy payday. Unfortunately, when something seems too easy, it often is.
In concept, the film is interesting if not entirely original. The “one last job” trope has been stale for ages, but I am willing to let a film surprise me regardless of the simplicity of its plot. But that’s the problem with The Bag Man, despite its multiple complications, it never truly rises above this base simplicity. And boy does it muck up the waters with needless complexity. For about 30 minutes, the film allows itself to be straightforward, to simply let these events take place, and let the characters live. However, somewhere along the way it loses the apparent confidence it had in its vision, and just starts throwing everything it can possibly think of at the wall. In its need to create a convoluted plot, it forgets that, at its core, it was trying to be a story about Jack.
That has to be what hooked John Cusack. The character of Jack has the possibility to be interestingly brooding, with a dark past that should remain only hinted at. If Cusack’s latest career moves are any inclination, he is interested in playing in darker fields, with unlikable, villainous, and typically quite sweaty characters. However, as the film takes the windy journey up its own ass, it completely loses track of the characters and what makes them tick. It may be a bit forgivable to let the bastion of secondary and tertiary characters slip into the background and remain ill-defined, but to do so with the lead that showed such desire for promise is just one big disappointment. Perhaps, it is the lack of definition in the surroundings that leads to Jack’s own murkiness. The characters just never manage to be grounded enough to be considered actual humans. This makes their actions, no matter how nefarious, or shadily motivated, feel inauthentic and simply in service to the overly circuitous plot.
If the failure on the fronts of character and understandable plot weren’t egregious enough, there is a pervasive air of misogyny that infiltrates the majority of the film.
If the failure on the fronts of character and understandable plot weren’t egregious enough, there is a pervasive air of misogyny that infiltrates the majority of the film. The film has one female character, played poorly by Rebecca Da Costa. She is a leggy hooker, described ad nauseum as 6 feet tall (repetitive descriptors do not make for an adequately developed character), with unclear motivations that is introduced as a sort of dirty, damsel-in-distress. She is dismissed and underestimated by all of her compatriots, and that is sort of the point. The problem is that the character is written and acted so poorly that she never establishes a reason to be considered anything more than the disparaging descriptions she is afforded. It is not only that she is weak, but it is to the point where she is a burden to everyone. There is no part of her that is redeeming or worthwhile, which makes the inevitable romance that emerges between her and Jack all the more false. No amount of late in the game twists can rescue this character from ruin. In fact, the final “reveal” and the repercussions of it only serve to further this misogynistic agenda. It is as if The Bag Man considers women to be self-serving nuisances that will abandon all that they stand for if there is a chance for love from a man.
The Bag Man has a promising start before dissolving into a complete an utter mess. Its morsel of intelligence is shrouded in an off-putting and unearned confidence that could only come from an overabundance of motherly praise. As it proudly revels in its own ingenuity, it trades actual character development and honesty for needless complexity. A third act reveal is so poorly executed that even M. Night Shyamalan would be annoyed by it. None of the characters, even Cusack’s Jack, are provided complexity of motivation, or in all honesty, any kind of motivation. This lack of definition makes the late in the game overt explanations unappetizing and insulting to the intelligence of the audience. By the end of the film, not only did I not care what happened, but I just wanted to be away from these repugnant caricatures whose boring demeanors proved to be more than annoying. The Bag Man believes itself to be endlessly intelligent and original, but, in actuality, is a braggadocios bore with nothing to actually brag about.
[notification type=”star”]40/100 ~ BAD. The Bag Man believes itself to be endlessly intelligent and original, but, in actuality, is a braggadocios bore with nothing to actually brag about.[/notification]