There is New York noir, all rainy streets and dark alleys. There’s L.A. noir, where the bright sunshine just makes the shadows deeper.
And then there’s Boston noir.
How to Rob is the latest entry, in a venerable tradition that ranges from The Friends of Eddie Coyle to The Town. And it shares some of the same hallmarks – working-class heroes, shot-and-a-beer hangouts, brutal brotherhoods.
And, as in every kind of noir, easy scores that turn out to be anything but.
The story centers on Jimmy and Sean, whose lives have taken some different turns. After a stretch in prison, Jimmy’s joined Sean’s landscaping business. Against his better judgement, Sean’s joined Jimmy in his business, too – robbing drug dealers and bookies.
They’re an unlikely pair. Sean has a girlfriend, a conscience, and a plan – to get out of this life. Jimmy only has an attitude. He’s the bad influence everybody’s mother warns them about, and his influence is about to be felt.
Filmmaker Peter Horgan, who also wrote the script, knows what he’s doing. He understands audiences may go to a mystery for the tricky plot, an action picture for the violence, but what really draws them to a gangster picture is the dialogue.
Criminals spend a lot of time sitting around, waiting. And the great directors – Scorsese, Tarantino – have always made sure why these crooks are waiting, they have something interesting to say.
Horgan isn’t on that level, but he definitely has an ear. His hoods are sometimes eloquent, sometimes crude, but always listenable. More impressively, they don’t all sound like other people’s characters – or each other.
The acting is mostly solid. Joshua Koopman is a little overpleased with himself at times, but then so is Jimmy; as Sean, Chinaza Uche has a quiet dignity. More fun are the actors playing the various lowlifes and bottom feeders who populate this world (although few of them even attempt that Boston accent.)
How to Rob is an ambitious film, however, and sometimes its ambitions get ahead of its capabilities.
A few metaphysical touches – at one point, an anguished Sean seeks out a psychic, who blathers on about reincarnation – feel at odds with the rest of this non-nonsense story. And Jimmy is given a sudden guilt complex which doesn’t jibe with everything else we know about him.
But when it stops trying too hard to get the snooty Cambridge crowd to like it – when it’s content to just hang with the Southies, slam a couple of Narragansetts, and dream out loud about the latest get-rich schemes – How to Rob is wicked pissah.