Waste of Time: Glossy Heist Fantasy a Missed Hit for Athale’s Debut
Producer Rowan Athale’s directorial debut, Wasteland, which he also penned, gets out of the gate like an excitable new race horse, overly assured, cocky, and with people betting it’s a sure kinda thing. But then you quickly realize that this is indeed his first time at the rodeo, his film debut so out of breathe and knees buckling before completing the first lap that we have to do everything in our power to stay with it till the finish line. If this analogy doesn’t give it away, director Athale has created a product grossly over-styled, a derivative amalgamation of heist genre classics, all the while bearing an excessively smug grin.
Harvey Miller (Luke Treadaway) has been badly beaten and is under arrest, awaiting interrogation in a police interview room. Detective Inspector West (Timothy Spall), exchanges kindly words with the troubled youth, but insists on hearing his entire story, to explain why, in front of 30 odd eyewitnesses, he nearly beat to death a local businessman (and suspected drug lord) Steven Roper (Neill Maskell) and why he was in the process of an attempted robbery. And thus, a framed narrative begins with flashbacks, when, a year prior, Harvey was jailed on a bogus possession charge, framed by the nefarious Roper because Harvey stole Roper’s girlfriend, the beautiful blonde Nicola (Vanessa Kirby). While he was in prison, Harvey kept a low profile and learned some secrets about where a large amount of money was stashed in an accessible safe, a plot he reveals to his four best mates once released. The quartet agrees to help their friend and run away and open a business with the booty, and, at the same time, exact just vengeance on Roper. Concurrently, Harvey rekindles his romance with Nicola. But the version of the story Harvey shares with the detective may not be the entire truth, and thus, we’re lead on a journey of twists and turns until, finally, all will be revealed, and justice may or may not be served.
It’s obvious that Athale is going for a cheeky cross between The Usual Suspects (1995) and something like Ocean’s 11 (2001), but fails miserably trying to be like either of these films. The main issue is the entirely predictable narrative and the tedious gimmick of having the annoyingly self assured main character monotonously feed us a fake story to only turn around and then monotonously feed us all the details he omitted that conveniently answers all our questions and fills in plot holes. And what he does to jeopardize the entire operation in order to “restore his faith in humanity” is ludicrous. The type of heist pulled off in this film would exist only in some alternate universe where Martha Stewart designed a Kafkaesque charade in which seedy dark things lurked in the corners but out of all the nonsensical chaos, money and gourmet delicacies would rain down like sunshine and rainbows. Every blaring minute reeks of flashy, false showmanship, each character given a host of jarringly polished or glaringly benign dialogue. It doesn’t help that Luke Treadaway has yet to prove he’s engaging enough to carry an entire narrative, but even the engaging Neill Maskell, of last year’s excellent Kill List is reduced to generic gangster baddy. Athale obviously thinks a slickly edited montage with thumping bass music that’s meant to propel the plot forward constitutes good filmmaking. While he’s not entirely without skill as a director, it would serve him better to make his own film instead of merely a film that’s trying to be like better films he so obviously admires. Perhaps Wasteland is a tongue-in-cheek title.
Reviewed on September 7 at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival – DISCOVERY Programme.