The Opportunists (2000)


(director/writer: Myles Connell; cinematographer: Teo Maniaci; editor: Andy Kier; cast: Christopher Walken (Victor Kelly), Peter McDonald (Michael Lawler), Cyndi Lauper (Sally Mahon), Vera Farmiga (Miriam Kelly), Donal Logue (Pat Duffy), Jose Zuniga (Jesus Del Toro), Tom Noonan (Mort Stein), Olek Krupa (Ted Walikaki), Anne Pitoniak (Aunt Diedre), Kate Burton (Rest Home Sister); Runtime: 89; First Look Pictures; 2000)
“What’s there not to like about this robbery film!”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Christopher Walken does his regular guy bit as Vic Kelly, a reformed safecracker who can’t make a go of it as a regular citizen since doing prison time for a previous crime, in Myles Connell’s gentle heist flick. Vic’s car repair shop is failing and he has trouble paying his bills, which include paying rent on his modest house in Sunnyside, Queens, a working-class neighborhood where he lives with his grown-up daughter Miriam (Vera Farmiga); and, he also can’t pay the charge for keeping his elderly aunt (Anne Pitoniak) in a nearby private Catholic nursing home. Vic’s dilemma is that he is indecisive about things, such as choosing between what is right and what is criminal.

Opportunity comes knocking on his door when an acquaintance named Pat (Donal Logue) tries to get him to rob the security firm he is working at, with his security guard partner Jesus (Jose Zuniga) in on the inside job. They promise Vic that his boss can’t report the crime because it is undisclosed money that he keeps in the safe. When he can’t talk Vic into doing the heist, he gets the help of a young man called Mike (Peter McDonald) who suddenly shows up on Vic’s door and says he’s from Ireland and is Uncle Frank’s son. Vic reluctantly gives him shelter in a mobile camper parked in his garage area. That’s where Mike gets a chance to talk with Pat and they scheme to make sure Vic is in further need of money. The Buick Riviera Vic is fixing up for a cop is sabotaged by Mike so when the cop comes to retrieve his car there is smoke coming out of the engine, thereby he refuses to pay for the car. Vic was counting on the money to pay off his debts, and now he becomes part of the heist scheme.

Vic shows that he’s an honorable guy when he refuses to borrow the two thousand dollar loan his long-time girlfriend Sally (Cyndi Lauper) offers him, telling her she needs it for renovations of the neighborhood bar she owns. She offers him the loan because she is afraid he will do something foolish and be sent upstate again in an attempt to get the money he needs.

Myles Connell, the first-time director, does a great job of establishing character in this ensemble production and fully catches the rigors of a working-class milieu. He also catches Walken’s need to preserve his dignity no matter what and how the other characters bounce off his understated performance to complement it with their own particular tics. Peter McDonald is filled with blarney and a boyish rashness, not quite the professional criminal, someone easily distracted from his purposes. He has his eyes open wide for Vic’s attractive daughter and he can’t keep his eyes off a pinball machine he sees when robbing a house, thereby stepping on the pet dog’s squeaky toy and waking up the house and foiling the robbery attempt. Donal Logue seems like he’s a real guy from the neighborhood, his performance was so real it didn’t seem like it was a performance. Vera Farmiga is as sweet as pie, and she seemed a natural as the caring daughter. Tom Noonan adds spark in a quirky performance as a veteran criminal, a former partner of Vic’s, with no pretenses to dressing for style. He is paid for his criminal knowledge and to get Vic the supplies to do the safe-cracking job.

What’s there not to like about this robbery film! It is hard for the audience to not root for them to succeed in this victimless caper. It is a film with limited aims but it has a certain friendliness and charm, and that credit must go in no small measure to the fine cast and the good eye the director has for what a real neighborhood is like and showing how working-class people feel. There is a certain grace to this movie. It reminded me of a Jean-Pierre Melville noir film; it had the same kind of positive energy.