13 April 2010


CA$H Juicy, Dark, and Fun
By Kristin Battestella

Well, I was supposed to go to Home Depot last weekend and buy plants for my garden, but I ended up at the movie theater next door instead. When I saw my local Regal was showing the limited released Sean Bean money fest CA$H, well then I just had to take a little detour on the tomatoes. 

Chicago couple Sam (Chris Hensworth) and Leslie (Victoria Profeta) Phelan think fortune has smiled upon them when a suitcase filled with over a half a million dollars literally lands on their station wagon. They pay off their mortgage, buy a Range Rover, and get new furniture-life looks like it’s on the up! Unfortunately, Reese Kubic (Sean Bean) wants his money back. He had to ditch the loot before being arrested by the police, and now the jailed Reese calls in his twin brother Pyke (also Bean) to find the Phelans. Once Pyke finds Sam and Leslie, the obsessively stylized criminal banker isn’t content with what’s in the suitcase. Pyke insists they replace the money that was spent, forcing the once kosher couple into a dangerous life of crime.

Some promotions and trailers are all fast desensitizing blurs of action and effects. CA$H’s trailer, however, actually accurately represents writer and director Stephen Milburn Anderson’s (Dead Man Can’t Dance, South Central) analysis of greed and corruption. Though it’s labeled as a gritty American thriller-which CA$H indeed is- I found the script to be very witty. I dare say this film is meant as a black comedy, satirizing America’s obsession with wealth along with our recent financial dire straights. We are a rich country that’s somehow made up of poor people just trying to make their next payment. We on one hand have the money to be okay for the most part, but we can never seem to have enough of that titular cash, either. Anderson’s script and direction style helps CA$H tell it like it is. Sometimes you can’t help but laugh at the irony of greed and the things we do for money. The script doesn’t shy away from what needs to be said. Anderson makes not only a commentary on money, but also class and race relations and corruption high and low. It’s a serious, well-handled analysis, and yet I found myself chuckling and smiling through some of the sarcasm and perfectly nailed wit. It’s a clever way to disguise such dark material with dry, memorable humor.

No, I probably wouldn’t have gone to the theater to see CA$H if Sean Bean (Sharpe, Lord of the Rings, Patriot Games) wasn’t in it. However, if this film earns a nationwide release, American audiences might finally understand why there are such massive Bean followings overseas. It is a little gimmicky that Bean is playing twins, as the imprisoned brother Reese has little to do other than bookend the film by establishing the scenario. It’s somewhat odd that they would go to so much trouble to mullet and tattoo Bean up for only three scenes, but Reese’s contribution to the way things unfold is as critical as it is bemusing. The shaggy hairstyle Bean sports as Pyke also seems a little out of place-such a seriously meticulous and well kempt guy would surely have a more cropped cut. However, the need for Pyke to slick his hair and straighten his tie after some violence is a fine character tick. The attention to Pyke’s style is a great ironic reflection on how appearances can be so deceiving. As Lord of the Rings says, Pyke does look fair and feel fouler. He does yoga, never seems to sleep, is a genius with numbers, and has a thing about drinking directly from the sink tap before roughing someone up. Pyke’s expensive suits and confident style further stress that he’s really a latent sociopath. Would a normal person who could walk away with over a half a million dollars stay and insist on the retrieval of a measly $75,000? The swanky score and suave pop tunes also add a classic edge to Pyke and CA$H itself. We know something badass is about to go down when the lyrics elude it, and likewise the brassy ensembles set the mood when something sexy is onscreen. I was surprised at several mentions of this being Sean Bean’s first lead, but in many ways CA$H is his long overdue American coming out party. His slick dominating presence drives the entire film and pushes all the right buttons onscreen and off. This may even be Sean Bean’s best performance since Lord of the Rings. CA$H proves he’s worth much more than five minutes of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief or broad baddies like National Treasure and crap like Crusoe. It’s about ^(&*%#@ time!

I have to say, at first glance to me a lot of these young blonde and buff actors look the same. I tend to confuse the upcoming Thor actor Chris Hemsworth with his Star Trek son Chris Pine and Channing Tatum from that God-awful G.I.Joe: The Rise of Cobra. After CA$H, however, I’ll probably remember Hemsworth can act. His Sam begins as a down on his luck average Joe doing the best he can in a ho-hum life and a stilted marriage. Who can’t relate? When fortune seems to smile on him with a found half a million, who wouldn’t react in the same way? When Pyke comes along however, Sam’s marriage and manhood are called into question. Is he a coward? Is Pyke deliberately pushing him to the edge and calling him out to get what he wants? The desperate changes in Sam are well done from Hemsworth. We see the range of emotion from honesty to anger and even cruelty. CA$H is a great examination of who’s in the right or where the level of crooketry begins and ends. Sam is an upstanding citizen, isn’t he? At what point does he become a criminal, and how far is the point of no return?

Not much has been said of the relatively unknown Victoria Profeta (Push) as Leslie thus far. Although she seems way too stickly and boney thin to me, she does a fine job as the fulcrum between Sam, her husband, and Pyke, their deadly houseguest. Though equality and feminine wiles are discussed between the trio, it is an unusual part-not quite equal to the men and naturally a little kinky between them. Leslie also starts as the honest good girl, but she comes to enjoy the criminal life a little too much. When robbing a convenience store to earn back Pyke’s money, she also proudly takes some Twinkies. After all, what’s a little shoplifting at this point, right? Leslie is more angry and vocal against Pyke then Sam, and he uses the whipped factor against them. Is Leslie more dominant than Sam is? In a truly healthy marriage, wouldn’t there be no dominance? There’s even a hint that Sam doesn’t eat meat because Leslie says so- and Pyke uses all these revelations against her. Though it probably could have been any pretty blonde steaming it up between the boys, Profeta does hold her own amid the sexual angst. Leslie’s eventual- if conflicted- lean towards Pyke further represents how much money can change people-and how quickly. The adrenaline and the power money brings is indeed attractive to her, and oh how green shows a person’s true colors.

There are some violent and action oriented scenes in CA$H of course, as is the nature of a heist film. However, this is not necessarily an action piece. Had this been a big blockbuster American production, we would not have spent half the movie in quiet confined scenes revealing our three characters. A mainstream version would have to have an Ocean’s Eleven culturally balanced ensemble with an elaborate scheme and repeated robberies and chase sequences. CA$H is instead refreshingly filmed in addition to its character piece pace and plot. The Chicago represented looks a little slim and shady, reiterating how easy it is to slip into a life of desperation or illegal means. The camera work is both fast and intense or claustrophobic and askew when it needs to be, but Anderson also knows when to let his cast play their parts. CA$H visually looks like the duality of greed it portrays. All the styles and dressings are deceiving. There isn’t any major great Michael Bay action sequences, but you still can’t look away from the visual clues stressing CA$H’s analysis of crime and corruption. This film does not shy away from its reinforcement about race, creed, or greed. No, it isn’t politically correct at all, and the accuracy of simply telling something like it is refreshing. Stephen Milburn Anderson should do more-and if CA$H has a modest success in its theatrical release; I dare say a follow up would be welcome.

It’s actually been some time since I’ve been to the movies, believe it or not, so I was just as observant of the CA$H theater experience as the movie itself. There were only five other people in the theater, understandable for a warm Friday matinee. However, I found it ironic that with so little people, there was still someone in the theater talking, someone was on a blackberry, and someone else had a baby with him. I don’t really know why someone would bring a baby to sleep through an R rated movie, but the infant was quieter than the talking or the phone! It was also bemusing to see the previews for Robin Hood and Season of the Witch before CA$H. Rumors and wishful thinking earlier attached Bean as being part of Robin Hood, and he is also starring in his own creepy Dark Ages picture Black Death later this year. While European audiences don’t have to wait for these independent films like us Americans often do; after having seen Sean Bean on the big screen, I hope Black Death makes it to a theater near me, too. Of course, the DVD of CA$H is already available overseas- complete with plenty of extras. When the set comes to Region 1, it will certainly be more than my $9 theater ticket. I guess I should start saving my money now!

This gritty yet witty examination of money and power is not for kids of course, thanks to the obligatory blood, sexual innuendo, and F-bombs. However, intelligent crime thriller audiences and fans of the cast will adore CA$H. If you have any preconceived notions about con artist or heist and robbery action films, leave them at the door when you see CA$H. This avant-garde piece will have you examining the way your balance your own check book in addition to some great societal analysis and fine performances. Spend some CA$H and see this one ASAP.


Marshall Bear said...

My name is Marshall Bear, the credited documentarian for the film CA$H.

Enjoyed reading your review and the insight you brought to understanding the themes Stephen Anderson wanted to examine in the piece.

My doc unpacks the director's themes in about 25 minutes. I can send you an unedited version (eg watermarks still there) if you would like to view it.

My email address is marshallbear@comcast.net



Kristin Snouffer said...

Hi Marshall! Thanks for stopping by. I really enjoyed CA$H and hope it gets the accolades it deserves.

Kristin Snouffer said...

Hey everyone! I finally picked up the DVD edition of CASH at my local Blockbuster's closing sale. Yay screencaptures.

FYI for those interested in Black Death- it's being released in stateside theaters this Spring!