Bag Man, The (2014)

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The Bag Man (2014)Starring John Cusack, Rebecca Da Costa, Robert De Niro, Crispin Glover, Dominic Purcell, Kirk ‘Sticky Fingaz’ Jones

Directed by David Grovic

The Bag Man is a terrible title. Sounds like some weepy Lifetime drama about a homeless dude who, thanks to the power of love / God / luck / friends, turns his life around and is saved. Hallelujah!

And by “hallelujah” I mean: The Bag Man is a nasty, violent, and gory crime thriller in which nobody loves anybody, God is nowhere to be found, the only luck is bad, and friendship does not exist.

Jack (Cusack) is a taciturn, mercenary criminal – he’ll take any job, as long as he gets paid. No questions asked. When he is hired by legendary crime boss Dragna (De Niro) to pick up, protect, and deliver a small leather bag, he does so – and agrees to the condition that never, ever, no matter what happens, is he to look inside the bag.

Even when he’s attacked on a lonely highway at night and has to kill the would-be thief, Jack doesn’t take a peek. Shoving the corpse into his trunk and driving on, Jack bides his time at a seedy motel and waits for Dragna to arrive with his payment.

But of course, Jack can’t simply relax with Skinemax on the tube or take a nap on the vibrating mattress. Nope. Between dodging the far too nosy wheelchair-bound motel clerk (Glover), sidestepping a curious cop (Purcell), harboring a sexy mystery girl (Da Costa), and fending off an ill-tempered pair of pimps (Jonesa and Martin Klebba), there is no rest for wicked Jack.

The Bag Man was originally called Motel, and while that is a generic title, at least it’s more fitting because this movie is a suspenseful, dark, and stylish thriller that’s reminiscent of everything from Psycho to Identity to Vacancy and even A&E’s “Bates Motel”. While not an out and out “horror movie,” The Bag Man has plenty of tension, punctuated by brutal, unflinching, and violent murders.

Cusack is delightful in his dourness as always, and relative unknown Da Costa holds her own, admirably vacillating between tough and tender. Best of all is seeing De Niro in a small but effective performance that’s more reminiscent of Max Cady or Sam Rothstein than anything he’s done lately. (Please, don’t make me watch Grudge Match!)

First-time director David Grovic must be well connected, indeed. I don’t know how he managed to assemble such a great cast, but he’s also surrounded by great talent behind the camera – DP Steve Mason’s use of light, shadow, and color is stunning and effective (no surprise since he shot Baz Luhrrman’s Strictly Ballroom). Whatever the case, Grovic is up to the task.

My only real complaint, and it’s more of a nitpick, is the use of annoying pop vocal songs in a couple of places. This is not the kind of story that calls for singing; atmospheric instrumentals in those moments would not have pulled me out of the film.

The Bag Man isn’t perfect, but it’s a serviceable, taut, and thoroughly enjoyable thriller (complete with big explosions!).

3 1/2 out of 5

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Staci Layne Wilson