Thursday, December 15, 2011

Charley Varrick

Charley Varrick is one of those older movies (1973, in this case) that holds up ridiculously well. It's a shame that nobody seems to have heard of it. It was directed by Don Siegel, who had directed many movies of almost every genre before this, but had achieved a huge box office success with the gritty crime action genre with his previous film, Dirty Harry. While Dirty Harry was an over the top action movie, built around an iconic, badass performance by Clint Eastwood, Charley Varrick is much more subdued, with intelligent plotting, a more relaxed pace, and really good dialogue. In fact, I would even say that Charley Varrick is the better of the two films, if not quite as memorable.

The title character is played by the great Walter Matthau (who won a BAFTA for this performance over in the UK), a down-on-his-luck former stunt pilot, now cropduster, who puts together a gang and masterminds a low-profile, small town bank robbery in New Mexico. The robbery is a bit of a disaster, with half his gang getting killed, along with some cops, but Varrick is very good at thinking on his feet, and he and his (surviving) partner in crime manage to elude suspicion.

When they return to his trailer park and check out their haul, they realize that they've stolen almost a million dollars, which is almost a million dollars more than they expected a tiny small town bank to have in its vault. Varrick deduces, correctly, that the money must belong to the mob, and was being held there until it could be properly invested overseas. This means that the mob is going to stop at nothing until they're dead and the money is returned.

What follows is a chess game, where Varrick must stay ahead of all the obstacles in his path, including the police, a nosy old lady neighbor, the corrupt owner of the bank (played by John Vernon), and a man named Molly (Joe Don Baker), the hitman employed by the banker. The question is, will Charley Varrick get away with the money and his life?

Charley Varrick (the movie, not the character) reminds me a great deal of the work of Elmore Leonard. In fact, I would go so far as saying that this film was a direct inspiration for Quentin Tarantino's Leonard adaptation, Jackie Brown. I haven't read anything saying this, but I am sure of it nonetheless. They are quite similar in style and tone, and both contain a smarter-than-their-station-in-life hero working a long game against all odds for a huge sum of money.

Charley Varrick (the movie, not the character) is an extremely smart caper with funny moments, great performances and colorful characters. Another thing worth noting is the awesome score, composed by the great Lalo Schifrin. There are so many reasons you should all watch this movie. Check it out on Netflix Instant!

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