Film Review: The Art of the Steal


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Of all the actors working today, only a small handful justify the films they are in. For me, Kurt Russell is at the top of that shortlist, and he has been for years. That’s the type of career a person dreams of and he has forged a remarkable niche for himself.

Everything he does has something uniquely his own. He’s a sexy leading man, a comedic buffoon, a marvelous physical actor, and a very good Elvis impersonator. Just watch him as Elvis and Herb Brooks.

His most recent prominent role was Stuntman Mike in Quinten Tarantino’s Death Proof, and this is why he has been absent from movies for a while.

Thankfully, Jonathan Sobol’s art-heist movie The Art of the Steal has lured him out of hiding. Made with a great cast, some really funny scenes, and a fun, fresh storyline.

What Is the Art of the Steal About?

The Art of the Steal may look like a crime film at first, but it’s actually a comedy. Each actor enthusiastically gets into his or her character, and this brings out a wonderful comedic experience in the film.

Crunch Calhoun is someone who has been called “The Rolodex,” “The Scratcher,” and the “The Idea Man” by his colleagues. He is part art thief and part Evil Knievel. As Sobol frames each member of the team in the introduction, he scrawls out their names and nicknames in giant blocky text, creating a larger-than-life environment where these eccentrics can function.

In this movie, there are three characters in focus from the book: Guy, Uncle Paddy, and Nicky, the protagonist. Guy is the intelligent, celebrated French forger of Picassos and Botticellis, with visions of accomplishing an art fraud as important as Yves Chaudron’s work. He is close with Uncle Paddy, an elderly Irishman who becomes involved in the conspiracy and with whom guy consults over many intricate issues.

Crunch has just been released from a Warsaw prison after serving five and a half years as Nicky’s fall guy for a botched art heist. While wearing a blue-star-strewn jumpsuit on his motorcycle, he jumps through rings of fire in car derbies. He has a disciple by the name of Francie (the notable Jay Baruchel) and is a loyal spouse to Lola (Katheryn Winnick). In his spare time, he enjoys sitting in his La-Z-Boy reading about how other ancient people dealt with their lives. It is likely that Crunch Calhoun won’t stay in line for long.

The thieves are always being stopped at various international borders. In the meantime, an Interpol agent partnered with a former art thief, then decided to become an informant to get to the bottom of the scheme. Terence Stamp does a rather unconventionally innocent performance of his character. It highlights his frustrations with machismo, despite crushing hot cups of coffee in his bare hands and remarking, Ow after. 

A surprisingly poetic line that interrupts the film says: “When I was a little boy, I went to the Victoria and Albert museum.” There, I saw a cup made completely of jade. It changed me, the way I look at things. That was the start of it. A lesser director would have cut that monologue for being a distracting and boring filler. But Sobol instead recognized that this monologue would end up delivering an emotional gut-punch near the film’s finale. Moreover, he realized that it’s the viewer’s response to the plot that is most crucial, not the plot itself. The thing is the performances, the actors, the theatrics, the vibe.

Takeaways from The Art of the Steal

There are farcical physical bits, wisecracks, and an intensifying feeling of entrapment in “The Art of the Steal.” In one of these, a panicked Francie transports two criminals across the Canadian border in the trunk of his car, barely believing how high the level of crime has risen. When questioned by the border patrol agent, he glues a long beard to his chin, then babbles “I’m in a play.” Witness the musical. With an exclamation mark.” Silliness like that keeps “The Art of the Steal” afloat. 

It would be great if more films felt free to be as silly as this one. Everyone seems to be having a great time. Early on, the right mood is set, insouciant, self-aware, and absurd.

In its third act, where plot with a capital P usually makes up most of the narrative, “The Art of the Steal” knows that we are more interested in the characters, the actors, their behavior, and their interactions. There is no doubt that the plot is given its due, and the heist that unfolds is absolutely amazing. The movie keeps its focus on character, rather than plot, until the satisfying ending. Kurt Russell could read the phone book and I’d watch it. 

“The Art of the Steal” is only 90 minutes long and doesn’t take itself too seriously, or at all. There is a lightness to the film, but that is not a criticism, at least not in this case. It is the reason it works.

Where Can I Watch The Art of the Steal?

You can stream the film:

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Eddie Davis

Back in 2018, Eddie decided there had to be a better way. He a baby on the way and a house full of original art from his ancestors. So he started building an art collecting app to catalog each piece and capture its story. And then he started buying (or trying to buy) original art in his home town of Atlanta, Georgia, United States and quickly discovered that nearly all artists had broken, out-of-date websites and made it nearly impossible to buy their work. So he connected his catalog app to a maintenance-free artist website. Somewhere in the middle, crypto NFTs exploded and then imploded, and the ETChster global community grew to ~15,000 artists and art collectors of all walks of life. Et cetera...