Family Ties (Movie Review: Take the Night)
Perhaps more than any other genre, crime films are my jam. Everyone who’s into film has that one genre they prefer just a bit more than the others. Even snooty old film critics will give a pass to their beloved “elevated horror” films or to historical dramas. It’s never been about bias, just personal preference.
A film that focuses on scumbags up to assorted scumbaggery? Great, sign me up! I can hang with the sweeping L.A. crime saga of Heat, the chilly nihilism of No Country for Old Men, the jittery panic of Training Day; the list goes on. While I’m not sure the crime genre has quite as much flexibility as westerns or superhero movies, it certainly contains multitudes.
I’m telling you this as an explanation for my obvious bias. With some films, I’m able to step back and view them dispassionately. But if there’s a movie where people walk around with suspicious-looking duffel bags, pull on ski masks, or bark hilariously overblown threats at each other, said movie will have to work pretty damn hard for me to not like it. The good news is that Take the Night is a strong little crime drama, one I liked quite a bit.
You know how parents always say they love all their children equally? They don’t. It’s a lie. The heirs of the famed Chang Import are acutely aware of that. William (Roy Huang) was always the one who pushed boundaries, desired attention from his industrialist father (Kelvin Han Yee), and watched resentfully as the attention he craved was showered on his brother Robert (Sam Song Li). Robert has his own familial cross to bear, though. When their father died, Robert was the one tapped to lead Chang Import, and we get the sense he’s doing so out of duty and nothing more.
Brothers Chad (Seth McTigue) and Todd (Brennan Keel Cook) must surely sympathize with the Changs, even though they live at opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. Their options were limited. Chad chose to join the military, and we get the sense that he performed gallantly in combat and was profoundly scarred by the experience. Todd, however, became a small-time crook. He probably got tired of being compared to his older brother and ran like hell in the opposite direction.
In a delightful moment of passive-aggressive behavior, William decides on the optimal party for Robert’s upcoming birthday. He’ll hire actors and stage a fake kidnapping, because who doesn’t love having a hood shoved over their head and being manhandled into the trunk of a car? What William fails to consider is that Chang Import is struggling and that Robert is doing everything he can to save the family business.
Making things worse is the fact that William hires Chad, who sees an opportunity. He recruits Shannon (Shomari Love), Justin (Antonio Aaron), and against his better judgment, Todd. Their plan is to abduct Robert and during the confusion, rob both his home and office safe. As you have certainly guessed, things go extremely poorly.
The thing to understand about Take the Night is that it’s neither an action film nor a heist thriller. The action is minimal and the sole car chase ends with both cars parking, rather than exploding. This is a good thing, as director Seth McTigue set out to make a smart crime drama focusing on the collision between two sets of siblings. McTigue’s budget was one million dollars, and he wisely spends his money on locations and sets. Better yet is his decision to spend most of his time on the characters. Their conversations, behavior, and decisions drive the film rather than the plot.
That’s what makes McTigue’s screenplay as strong as it is, the constant focus on character. He does excellent work letting the brothers bounce off of each other and showing us why they are the way they are. The script never becomes a simplistic story of good and evil. It’s always sympathetic and while we might not agree with the choices the characters make, we always understand why they make them. McTigue adds a layer of sophisticated writing by adding an economic aspect to the development of the two sets of siblings. Robert and William grew up wealthy, while Chad and Todd likely missed more than a few meals. We’re reminded that while money can’t buy happiness, it can affect a hell of a lot in terms of development.
The performances are strong across the board, and none of the actors ever go too broad. One piece of acting I particularly liked was Grace Serrano as Robert’s executive assistant Melissa. There’s a sequence where she makes a choice that leads to…well, a bunch of things happening. Serrano sells that choice naturally and honestly. I understood why she did what she did, and her acting never felt forced by the plot. It’s just a person making a decision.
There are no jaw-dropping fight scenes in Take the Night. No massive stunts, no crowds of thousands of extras. Instead, we see two sets of brothers, each molded by specific relationships and each forged by circumstances that affect them individually in unique ways. Good crime movies give us a concrete understanding of why characters reject the straight and narrow, and what the allure of the underworld is. ) is an excellent crime movie.