BY: BEARS FONTE
In a reimagining of the classic Mark Twain novels, Tom and Huck are adults in the modern world, still searching for Injun Joe’s hidden treasure. Fresh out of jail, Huck finds his old friend Tom waiting in a squad car, he’s now on the other side of the law. Unable to find his peace with the Widow Douglas, Huck is easily roped into another of Tom’s schemes. Tom has tracked down that treasure they’ve been searching for since they were kids. Forming the ‘Band of Robbers’ with a few other guys in a man-cave basement, they set out on one last adventure. However, Tom’s new partner, Becky Thatcher, threatens to get in the way of their intricate plans.
BAND OF ROBBERS runs rampant with your expectations, constantly delighting and surprising Twain fans and satisfying anyone in the mood for a good heist flick. The film premiered at LA Film Festival last year in June, and I had the good fortune to program it as our Centerpiece Film at the St. Lawrence International Film Festival in upstate New York last fall. It is rare these days to find a film that actually wants to be fun and isn’t dripping with modern cynicism. It’s a love story, it’s a story about brothers, a story about friendship. The film draws heavily from stories we know to their core, yet still feels completely original, with a voice that is heat-warming and edgy at the same time. How Austin Film Festival passed on this film, the classic writer’s exercise, I’ll never understand. It is absolutely one of the best films I saw on the festival circuit last year. With fresh faces like Kyle Gallner (appearing the new WGA series THE OUTSIDERS) as Huck, Melissa Benoist (Supergirl) as Becky, and comedian Hannibal Burress as fellow robber Ben Rogers, Band of Robbers threatens to be one of those great ensemble pieces that you go to again and again years from now and can’t believe all these rising stars were in it.
Co-Writer/Director Adam Nee plays Tom Sawyer, the madman at the center of the heist, only fitting as he and his brother are the madmen responsible for this fantastic junior high school reading assignment appropriation. According the Nee brothers, they first experienced these stories through their father, who read them out loud doing characters and voices. One thing stuck with them through the years, Twain’s ability to deal with the darkest of subject through humor. “Even when the stakes are grounded in life and death itself,” they wrote in their director’s statement, “Twain’s characters remain irreverent and comical in the truest picture of humanity.” I had a chance to talk Adam Nee on the eve of the release to chat about the film.
BEARS: Why do you think Twain’s stories resonate with Americans more than most other authors?
Adam: There are so many themes in Twain’s Tom and Huck books that are timeless, whether that’s the recognition of the childlike spirit we have or long for, the issues of race and religion, hypocrisy, wonder, the pursuit of something more, something magical even when real life is getting in the way. There is just so much depth in the work and I think the real timelessness comes from the fact that all of that substance is hidden behind incredible humor and brilliantly buffoonish characters.
Adam: Ultimately we knew we wanted it to be centered on the new complexity that develops in Tom and Huck’s relationship when you make them adults. The stakes are higher now and call for action and internal changes. As far as scenes, the first scene I wrote was the man-cave scene and it was never going anywhere!
BEARS: I like the idea of the film as ‘fan fiction’ – and it’s clear that people like JJ Abrams like to shove little Easter eggs into their remakes for the die-hards. Are there any Twain references snuck into this film that you are proud of?
Adam: Absolutely! From the feuding families to the duke and the king to Tom’s ex-fiancé and white washing, the movie is full of them! I look forward to future conversations with those that spit them!
BEARS: How are you so funny?
Adam: It was the only way I could get my dad to love me.
I can’t recommend this movie enough. Hollywood just doesn’t make films like this anymore. It takes brave outsiders with very particular senses of humor to attack something we all know, and make it feel brand new and vital, without once slipping into some sort of pessimistic edge. BAND OF ROBBERS can be seen theatrically in several cities in the US and Canada, opening today, and is available on VOD on all major outlets. This is a can’t miss film for the weekend!