D: Mark Steven Johnson / 92m
Cast: Travis Fimmel, Rachael Taylor, William Fichtner, Forest Whitaker, Louis Lombardi, Rhys Coiro, Jake Weary, Lily Rabe, John Finn
1980. John Baker (Fimmel) meets his girlfriend, Molly Murphy (Taylor) at a diner, where he proceeds to tell her that he’s not the man she thinks he is. Baker reveals that his real name is Harry Barber, and that in 1972, along with four other men, he robbed the United California Bank of around $12 million. The robbery was carried out in the belief that then President Richard Nixon had stashed $30 million in illegal campaign funds within the bank’s vault. After the robbery, the five men went their separate ways, Harry and his younger brother, Tommy (Weary), having been paid their “share” already. But it wasn’t long before the FBI, and lead agent Howard Lambert (Whitaker), had tracked down and arrested everyone except Harry, who promptly went on the run. Ending up in a small town, and finding a job as a bartender, Harry met Molly, and they began seeing each other. While Harry settled into small town life, he was still being sought by the FBI, but eight years later his relationship with Molly has become too important for him not to tell her the truth…
If you like your movies – whether based on a true story or not – whimsical and slightly silly, or with a surfeit of gosh-darn wholesomeness that overrides the drama of the biggest bank robbery in U.S. history, then Finding Steve McQueen will be the movie for you. It’s a movie that takes several disparate elements and mixes them all together to tell a light-hearted (and lightweight) story that opts for charm as its main characteristic, while adding dollops of goofy humour to its romantic sub-plot. Though inspired by a true story, Ken Hixon and Keith Sharon’s screenplay uses the robbery as a branching off point for a pointed exploration of Nixon’s fall from grace, an idealised appreciation for the movies of Steve McQueen, and a gently meandering romance between Harry and Molly that feels like it should be quirkier and more affecting. There’s also the FBI investigation, an avuncular affair that sees Whitaker play Lambert with a sad twinkle in his eye, and which sees the intervention of real life figure Mark Felt (Finn) in order to keep Lambert finding out (from him at least) that, yes, the President might be involved – somehow. These are worthy attempts at boosting the minimal impact the movie has as a whole, and though they’re not entirely successful, that charm that Johnson and his cast and crew have aimed for, is undeniable.
It would be easy to dismiss Finding Steve McQueen as a piece of cinematic fluff, or the movie equivalent of a meringue, but the fact that it is an enjoyable, and undemanding diversion is it’s main strength. With a slew of performances that display an awareness of the thinness of the material, and which have adjusted themselves accordingly, Fimmel et al give the more maudlin or outright saccharine-drenched moments a likeability that’s hard to ignore, and they make more of the humour than is likely was ever in the script to begin with. Fichtner is great as the Nixon-hating mastermind behind the robbery, Weary gives an affecting turn as Harry’s withdrawn, simple-minded brother, and Rabe is endearing as the rookie FBI agent whose eyes light up when she receives even the merest word of praise. Again, it’s a movie that shouldn’t work as well as it does, and kudos should go to Johnson (making only his sixth feature in twenty years) for finding a way to make each element feel more connected to the others than they should do, and for finding the through line in the narrative that keeps it all from becoming vapid and irredeemably innocuous. But then any movie that has one of its bank robbers attempt to eacape capture on a motorised lawnmower can’t be all bad…
Rating: 6/10 – with a script that could have been sharper, more focused, or less determined to make a Seventies cultural reference every two minutes or so (or all three), Finding Steve McQueen is a curious beast in that it somehow makes you forget just how bland it is once you take away the performances and Johnson’s direction; pleasant and undemanding – and those are good things – it’s a movie that serves as a reminder that sometimes less can really mean less, and still be entertaining.