A Canadian Caper

The Art of the Steal
(Canada, 90 min.)
Written and directed by Jonathan Sobol
Starring: Kurt Russell, Matt Dillon, Jay Baruchel, Kenneth Welsh, Chris Diamantopoulos, Terrence Stamp, Katheryn Winnick, Jason Jones
Photo courtesy eOne Films.

“I got a job for you,” says Crunch Calhoun (Kurt Russell) whilst convincing his former forger, Guy (Chris Diamantopoulos) to reunite for another heist.
“America?” Guy replies.
“No, Canada,” says Crunch.
“Enh, America-lite.”

The Art of the Steal is appropriately America-like as it puts Hollywood actor Kurt Russell in a starring role in a breezy Canadian caper. Russell, who is more than comfortable headlining The Art of the Steal thanks to his stints of residency in Vancouver and the Muskokas, stars as Crunch Calhoun, a daredevil by day and master thief by night. Russell gives an amiable turn as the rugged, seasoned Crunch who, unfortunately, seems to be the fall guy in either profession. He resorts to taking spills on his bike for extra cash after a five and a half year stay in a Polish prison left him with few options.

Crunch returns to the art of the steal when fate crosses his path and allows him to return in another death-defying act. This new score is an act of considerable risk, for the heist that put Crunch in the slammer saw him get sold out by his brother, Nicky (played by an appropriately slimy Matt Dillon). It’s up to Crunch to take it on faith that he is back to being a partner in crime and not his brother’s mark.

The shaky fraternal bond makes the Calhoun clan tread a tricky tightrope as the brothers reunite with their old team, which includes French forger Guy (Parisian French, not Québécois) and their dirty old uncle Paddy (Kenneth Welsh, “Twin Peaks”), plus new recruit Francie (Canuck funnyman Jay Baruchel), who acts as Crunch’s apprentice and bumbling conscience alike. The stacked cast of The Art of the Steal is rounded out by a wry Terrence Stamp, who appears as a foe to the conmen playing a forger turned Interpol informant. Stamp has a lot of fun playing the yin to the yang of the hammy Interpol agent played by Jason Jones.
The Art of the Steal moves along quickly and a little too cleanly for a film with so much underlying conflict. The central heist is done almost as soon as it begins, with only one real complication arising in the process. The road bump provides Baruchel with a great moment to shine in a scene of awkward, rambling humour—and it lets him sport a funny Amish beard—but the heist element to The Art of the Steal doesn’t entirely pay off. It’s an express checkout in the self-serve aisle as opposed to a swift robbery.

Writer/director Jonathan Sobol (A Beginners Guide to Endings), however, provides one genuinely surprising twist at the end of The Art of the Steal. It’s a smart turn that one doesn’t see coming. No matter how convoluted it may seem, The Art of the Steal is an entertaining adventure where the audience and the good guys both win.

The heist provides one genuinely great laugh, though, by spinning the tried and true tactic of the Trojan Horse anew with a rubbery modern art vagina. It’s a droll sight gag rendered extra funny thanks to Stamp’s sardonic one-liners. The Art of the Steal finds a bigger score in its comedic vein. Thanks to the camaraderie of the cast, especially scene-stealers Baruchel and Stamp, The Art of the Steal is fun, fast-paced, entertainment with snappy dialogue and punch lines to boot.

If The Art of the Steal struggles to balance both its caper and comedic, it has a better time straddling the border between Can Con and Hollywood entertainment. Sobol smartly sets the comedy in the snowy bordertown of Niagara Falls with a few visits to derelict Detroit and Québec City in between. The Art of the Steal is most refreshing as a Canadian film that is not afraid to show its Canadianness. The Art of the Steal, playing out in scenic snowy settings, thankfully avoids the camouflage one usually sees in Canuck films with commercial potential. Like last year’s Goon, The Art of the Steal wisely takes place on both sides of the border, so questions of national character are part of the film, but the story isn’t overwhelmed by nudge-nudge, wink-wink references to Canadiana. (See: One Week.) The film, aside from its dim lighting, looks just as good as an American genre pic does, and it should play just as well there as it does here.

A score for audiences thanks to a solid cast, the adventure of The Art of the Steal is a true Canadian caper. It might feel a bit familiar, but it’s nice to see a Canuck film that doesn’t feel foreign, eh?

Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

The Art of the Steal is currently playing in wide release in Canada.