As always, Spoiler Alert.
Watching 2001’s Bandits yet again, I commented to Ron that it’s stood up well over time, to which he replied that’s because it’s a human story. And he’s right. While it’s nominally a heist movie with a light rom-com twist, the characters are more complex than is normal for either of those genres, and their somewhat tangled relationship is handled with surprising maturity and delicacy.
Joe (Bruce Willis) and Terry (Billy Bob Thorton) are escaped convicts turned bank robbers. They earn the moniker ‘The Sleepover Bandits,’ because they go to the bank managers’ homes the night before the heist, hold them and their families hostage, and take them to the bank in the morning, where they also take the staff hostage as they arrive for work. Once everybody needed to open the safe has arrived, they make off with the money.
Joe and Terry and their MO are based on real people and events. Kate (Cate Blanchett), on the other hand, is a fully fabricated character, who joins Joe and Terry in their crime spree, falling in love with them in the process.
Yep, you read that right. She falls in love with both of them. Of course, in true rom-com fashion, they both fall in love with her, as well.
And that’s where the movie breaks away from the traditional rom-com mould and gets interesting. Because what the audience is seeing is the birth of a polyamorous relationship. It’s a daring choice for a mainstream, lighthearted film featuring big-name stars, and on a whole, I think it’s handled quite well. Not that I’ve ever been in involved in that type of relationship. But I have a friend who is, and after many conversations with her, I have a decent idea of what’s required to make a poly relationship work.
Communication is at the core of a successful poly relationship, and Kate, Joe, and Terry communicate in spades – somewhat dramatically, true, but it is a movie after all. Compromise is another key factor, and while it takes Joe and Terry time to accept Kate’s decision that it’s either both of them or neither, they do eventually get there.
I actually think the changing dynamic of Joe and Terry’s friendship over the course of the film beautifully captures the stages of a relationship in flux. They start out as fast friends, close enough that when they escape from prison, they not only stick together, but hatch a plan to steal enough money to finance running a resort in Mexico. In this case, there is honour among thieves. When Kate joins their group, and they interpret their romantic feelings for her in a traditional either/or fashion, their friendship becomes rocky, but at no time do they consider going their separate ways. And then their friendship evens out again, approaching bromance levels as they work out together what being in a throuple might mean.
As for Kate, my interpretation of her character has changed since my friend opened her marriage. I always thought it was a bit of a stereotype, her falling for both Joe and Terry, because they were so opposite to each other. But while I haven’t met any of the others that have joined my friend and her husband, I have heard about them. In their case, it’s clear that the new relationships outside the marriage are with people very different from the one they chose to marry, and part of the appeal of polyamory is exploring those previously off-limits dynamics.
At one point in Bandits, Kate asks Joe and Terry, “What if we only have one big love?” She’s turning the idea that there’s someone for everyone on its head, arguing instead that feelings can’t be forced into traditional norms and should be run with instead.
That’s an idea I can get behind.
To see other posts in my venture to watch my movie collection in alphabetical(ish) order, click here.