LIFE OF CRIME written and directed by Daniel Schechter, from the novel by Elmore Leonard, with Jennifer Aniston, John Hawkes, Yasiin Bey and Tim Robbins. A VVS Films release. 99 minutes. For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNN
It's the day before Life Of Crime closes the 2013 Toronto Film Festival, and director Daniel Schechter is enjoying a little quiet time.
"I only finished this movie like three days before I got here, so it's just such a pleasure to finally talk about it with people who've seen it," he laughs, sitting down for a coffee at the Intercontinental. "I've been editing this in my apartment for four months."
The simple story of two small-time Detroit crooks who kidnap a rich prick's wife only to discover that he doesn't want her back so much, Life Of Crime is a fun spin on Elmore Leonard's novel The Switch - although the fun aspect was a little muted in the wake of Leonard's death a few weeks earlier.
Today, Schechter is just happy to have made a movie people seem to like, and one that isn't being lumped in with disappointing recent Leonard adaptations like Killshot and Freaky Deaky.
"For whatever reason, I pick up Elmore Leonard books and look at them like sheet music that I think I can play," Schechter says. "I've seen people play it wrong, and it really breaks my heart as a fan to see a bad adaptation."
Schechter decided to adapt The Switch by treating the text as sacred.
"I would take all the scenes and just type them into Final Draft and see what it would come out like," he says, adding, "If you read [The Switch] you'll be far less impressed with my adaptation, because it was a shameless transcription of a very good book."
The gambit worked.
"Every scene I did, I realized you could put it in an acting class," he says. "It was very clear what each person's motivation was. It wasn't ‘Oh, wouldn't this be cool?' or ‘Wouldn't this be weird?' or ‘Wouldn't this be charming?' Every character wanted something from the other. Every scene had a purpose. It wasn't just a scenario - it was a story that was constantly unfolding as these characters keep bumping against each other."
As played by John Hawkes, Yasiin Bey (the artist formerly known as Mos Def), Jennifer Aniston and Tim Robbins, these characters are fun, weird people to hang out with. And there's also the extra zing of knowing that Hawkes and Bey's characters will age into Robert De Niro and Samuel L. Jackson in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown.
The same knowledge was always in the back of Schechter's mind.
"There's a scene at the end [of Jackie Brown] where Jackson says to De Niro, ‘What happened to you? You used to be beautiful.' And it would be cool if Hawkes's performance could inform that line - you could see what a spark that guy had when he was younger, and how capable he was, and he got kinda burnt out. So I'd like to believe that's something that could be contributed to that film.
"Jackie Brown is one of my favourite films of all time. I'd be lying if I said one of the most appealing aspects of [Life Of Crime] wasn't just to play with those two characters. So it was a treat and an honour and a terrifying aspect of it, but as a film nerd, I was like a fanboy for this movie from the jump."