Thursday, October 02, 2008

Film Review #177: Where the Money Is
Director: Marek Kanievska
Cast: Paul Newman, Linda Fiorentino, Dermot Mulroney

In this unheralded but sometimes delicious little heist film, cop cars’ lights whirl outside the cabin in the night woods and a bull-horn warns, “Put your hands above your heads! You’re surrounded!”

Seemingly nonchalant, Paul Newman’s Henry Manning turns to Linda Fiorentino’s Carol Ann MacKay and makes a proposal directly from his outlaw heart to hers: “You haven’t lived until someone has said those words to you!”

Fittingly, since a first-rate chase ensues, I was in my car somewhere on East Genesee Street late Saturday afternoon when I heard on NPR that Newman died Friday night. Somewhere in the middle of commentator Bob Mondello’s appreciation of Newman’s long career – over 80 roles in 56 years, not counting stage work – I re-routed myself down Erie Blvd. East to Emerald City Video. They were looking over their inventory to make a Newman section up front. They don’t have The Color of Money anymore, Scorsese’s 1984 sequel to Robert Rossen’s The Hustler (1961), which won Newman an Oscar for reprising pool player Fast Eddie Felson. Mondello mentioned Fast Eddie, as did lots of writers in the Sunday papers. And I already had Sam Mendes’ Road to Perdition (2002) at home – one of my top ten favorite movies – in which Newman plays the Irish gangster John Rooney to Tom Hanks’ hit man.

Despite his legendary younger roles, Newman played older men well – as in Rooney’s sorrowful but thoroughly corrupt mobster-father or, as early as 1982, the deeply world-weary lawyer Frank Galvin in Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict. Who can forget the wallop in that long, long shot of Newman striding up the street and – not a single skid mark – slapping Charlotte Rampling full across the face?

Where the Money Is (2000) hasn’t made the memorial lists but it’s got one of Newman’s best old men. This old bathrobe of a movie is just fine on DVD on a rainy fall night, though it didn’t do very well in theaters. Three weeks’ wide release, three more on drastically fewer screens, and it was gone – on to 20 other countries or so and DVD, largely, safe to say, on Newman’s name. I saw Where the Money Is in a theater the first time and called someone afterward to say what a pleasure it was to watch Newman work.

Ostensibly set in a lush but scraggly part of rural Oregon, filmed in Montreal, and directed by England’s Marek Kanievska, Where the Money Is regards Newman’s bank-robber Manning, who we learn - along with Carol Ann - had eluded police for 30 years until a power outage trapped him overnight in a bank vault. The film’s title and aura play on 1930s-era real-life bank-robber Willie Sutton, who escaped incarceration often and explained that he robbed banks “because that’s where the money is.”

After learning mail-order Tantric yoga to fake a stroke that gets him transferred from prison to a nursing home, instead of picking up his stashed millions and fading north to Canada, Manning crosses paths with Carol Ann MacKay. While it’s hard to swallow that ex-prom queen-turned-nurse Carol Ann has never been out of this town – this is not long after Fiorentino’s steamy role in John Dahl’s The Last Seduction – it’s easy to see where her first suspicions about her stroke patient's fakery will go. An impromptu lap dance in the nursing home fails to startle Manning out of his repose, so she takes him on a picnic. After warning “Last chance!” she grandly shoves his wheelchair off the dock into a lake. Well, let us just say that soon Carol Ann and Manning team up to rob an armored payroll truck. Carol Ann’s husband, ex-prom king Wayne (Brian Mulroney) – credibly jealous after he watches Manning dance with Carol Ann in a roadhouse – insists on coming along and so furnishes both stupid moves and betrayal.

There’s much in this minor key movie that’s both sweet and deftly managed. A wry, affectionate use of music includes the likes of the Cars’ My Best Friend’s Girl and Stephen Lang’s Sexy. Manning’s revenge on the sleazy orderly who steals his watch and hits on Carol Ann satisfies, as does Wayne’s well-deserved undoing. On the other hand, the elderly nursing home residents provide comic turns that move the plot along, but there’s not a cheap shot anywhere about getting old. Henry Manning has achieved that with considerable, ingenious grace. The best parts come when Manning emerges from quiet into the moment’s chaos to deliver some under-stated line to Carol Ann – they’re well-matched as the two most alert characters in the movie – for example, when she rescues him, without any plan except the wild driving she loves, from the van taking him back to prison.

“That’s my girl,” he growls, opening one eye as she frees him. “What took you so long?”

This review appears in the 10/2/2008 issue of the Syracuse City Eagle weekly, where “Make it Snappy” is a regular column reviewing DVDs of recent movies that did not open theatrically in Central New York & older films of enduring worth.