The Art of the Steal: Toronto Review

Enjoyable heist pic is more talk than action.

Kurt Russell and Matt Dillon play brothers who patch up old grudges to attempt the scam of a lifetime.

TORONTO — A north-of-the-border heist pic built on "here's the plan" montage instead of hold-your-breath safecracking scenes, Jonathan Sobol's The Art of the Steal finds two art-thief brothers reuniting after years of bad blood. Not to be confused with 2009's doc about the betrayal of an art patron's legacy in Philadelphia, this film offers its own share of museum-worthy outrages -- from a fake Gauguin to a pink plastic sculpture suggestive enough to make Georgia O'Keefe's flowers look like, well, flowers -- and in a nice twist kind of seems like it actually cares about the art's merit in addition to its dollar value. Though hardly action packed, the brisk and twisty film benefits from a cast appealing to a few demographics -- when was the last time Terence Stamp and Jay Baruchel were in the same film? -- and could do well with moviegoers who don't need muscle cars and muscle men in their capers.

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The movie puts its only real action sequence right up front: In establishing how hero Crunch Calhoun (Kurt Russell) wound up in a Polish prison, it flashes back to a neat switcheroo he pulled off with brother/partner Nicky (Matt Dillon), part of which involved a motorcycle chase leading through alleyways to the subway, through a train, and back above ground. Crunch's derring-do was for naught, though, as Nicky got caught by cops and ratted on his brother so he could go free.

Years later, Crunch is using his skills in third-rate daredevil shows, assisted by young mechanic Francie (Baruchel). When his motorcycle is stolen, the near-broke wheelman has little choice but to mend fences with his brother and do another job for the old gang. Nicky and their onetime partner Paddy (Kenneth Welsh) have a lead on an insanely rare tome printed by Johannes Gutenberg (you may remember him from such early movable-type books as The Bible), currently being held at a Niagara Falls customs station. If they can sneak the book out, a Detroit collector will make them rich.

From here, most of the plot revolves around forgeries and the selling of fakes to greedy, unscrupulous collectors. More entertaining than this is what's happening on the other side of the law: An Interpol agent (Jason Jones) has coerced a con doing time for art robberies (Stamp) into helping him figure out what the Calhoun gang is up to. While Jones employs the same overzealous-but-dumb characterization he uses on The Daily Show, Stamp earns many of the film's biggest laughs by dryly ridiculing the self-important agent, noting, among other things, that it's a strange sort of lawman who isn't allowed to pack a gun. In interactions with Russell, he also gets to lend some class to the whole culture-theft racket, representing those real-life characters whose crimes stem not from avarice but from the need to be close to a masterpiece.

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The last act of Sobol's script focuses increasingly on double-crosses, relying too much on explanatory flashbacks to show just how clever characters have been in cheating each other. Still, the end result satisfies both our vicarious greed and the desire some viewers will have to see a priceless work of art wind up in the hands of someone who couldn't care less about its price.

Production Company: Darius Films
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Matt Dillon, Kurt Russell, Terence Stamp, Katheryn Winnick, Chris Diamantopoulos, Kenneth Welsh, Jason Jones
Director-Screenwriter: Jonathan Sobol
Producer: Nicholas Tabarrok
Executive producers: Mark Slone, Jeff Sackman, Bob Weinstein, Noah Segal
Director of photography: Adam Swica
Production designer: Matthew Davies
Music: Grayson Matthews
Editor: Geoff Ashenhurst
No rating, 90 minutes