He Said/She Said: After the Sunset

By David Mumpower

November 11, 2004

Who's the creepy Hemingway in the background?

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Pierce Brosnan made a name for himself in the 1980s by playing a character of polar opposite in nature than James Bond. The role of Remington Steele placed Brosnan in the carefully seamed Italian suit of a confidence man looking to pass himself off as a reputable investigator. When the kind folks at MGM later presented him the career defining title of Bond, he pulled off the performance with aplomb, and for obvious reasons. Brosnan has always understood there is little difference between good and evil for a well refined hero/anti-hero. Playing both roles in a similar style is the key to believable moral ambiguity.

To this end, his work in The Thomas Crown Affair and The Tailor of Panama carefully counterbalanced the benevolent nature of the world-saving James Bond by showing the same sort of man but with a proclivity toward selfish gains. Now, Pierce Brosnan has completed the trifecta by offering a performance in After the Sunset which perfects the type of role that put him on the map in the 1980s. In the process, director Brett Ratner and he have managed to create a dutiful homage to the Hitchcock classic, To Catch a Thief.

The concept here is straightforward to the point of cliche. An aging master thief, Max Burdett, plans to pull off one last heist before resting on his laurels (and newly attained wealth). Helping him is his partner-in-crime and love interest, the wonderfully named Lola Cirillo (Salma Hayek). The gem in question is the second of three priceless diamonds once used in the inauguration of Napoleon Bonaparte. The criminal duo thinks it would make for a nice matched set with the first one which they have already acquired.

Of course, there are other sources of conflict other than a high tech security system attempting to prevent them from succeeding. Foremost among them is frustrated FBI agent Stan Lloyd (Woody Harrelson). Once a highly respected member of the bureau, he became a laughingstock when Max and Lola pulled off their heist on his watch. Vindictive and fighting to salvage his career, Max would stop at nothing to take the happy couple down. But, alas, fate is again unkind to the law enforcement official as they walk away with the jewel.

Max and Lola have two of the three diamonds, so they retire to an island paradise to live happily ever after. The problem is that Max does not feel all that happy.

The restlessness of living a life without goals and ambitions begins to weigh on the master criminal. When news arrives that the third piece of the Napoleon set has made its way to his part of the world via a cruise exhibit, Max re-discovers that yearning for the diamond that lies beyond the glass casing. Lola, on the other hand, is having way too much fun building their beachfront deck to want to go back to the life of crime. When agent Lloyd arrives on the island, the trio is reunited by their mutual co-dependencies. Lola needs the love of her life to accept the changing tide of his life. Max needs a foil to vanquish on his way to acquiring a jewel. Lloyd needs both of them in order to find his redemption and possibly restore his career. Their interplay is the meat of the movie.

The playful tone of After the Sunset is its greatest strength. Recognizing that there is natural chemistry between the three leads, a decision was made to underplay the normal key elements of a heist movie. Little to no time is spent discussing the actual execution of the jewel thefts. Instead, the focus is fixated upon the interpersonal dynamics between the three talents. Surprisingly enough, it’s the coupling of Hayek and Brosnan’s characters that is placed on the backburner for the most part. Instead, a contemptuous albeit occasionally flirtatious (yup, flirtatious) relationship between Max and Agent Lloyd is the focus of most of the humorous moments in the movie. Hayek seems to be asked mainly to look good in a bikini rather than do any heavy lifting here. Normally, I would be appalled by such decision making, but the chemistry between Harrelson and Brosnan is so strong that it’s an understandable and, in fact, justifiable decision.

My quibbles with the movie are nitpicky to a degree. Don Cheadle, one of my favorite actors, is ostensibly a part of the cast, but his presence here is limited to only marginally more work than he had in Ratner’s prior work, Rush Hour 2. If you are going to see this movie because Cheadle is in it, A) I love you and B) you needn’t bother. The other concern is that there are several parts of the movie where the story drags more than a little bit. In particular, the final act feels a bit too aimless and the conclusion way too frenzied. Until this point, the film largely mimics the behavioral patterns of To Catch a Thief to the point that I could probably storyboard the exact similarities between each scene. I expect that this is what Mr. Ratner did as well, as his tone throughout the production is respectful to the point of being reverential to Hitchcock’s work. When it starts to stray from that behavior, the story stumbles a bit. It’s unfortunate that the film lacks a home run ending, but I greatly enjoyed the journey in getting to the end.

After the Sunset all but states in its inception that it seeks to pay tribute to my favorite film of all time, To Catch a Thief. Such a lofty goal seems implausible, yet I still found myself enraptured by the modern updates to Hitchcock’s themes. I am so satisfied with the final product that I can say with every confidence that I expect this film to be a more enriching homage to the Cary Grant classic than the actual planned re-make will be. Prove me wrong, Todd Komarnicki.



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