Dr. Donna Copeland’s
JOHN CUSACK REBECCA DA COSTA CRISPIN GLOVER ROBERT DE NIRO
THE BAG MAN
In all honesty, I don’t know how a film this bad can even get made, not to mention include actors like Cusack and De Niro. The Bag Man is written and directed by David Grovic in his first feature film. The lack of education in basic filmmaking is the real mystery here, not what’s in the bag. “Don’t look in the bag,” De Niro tells Cusack in the opening moments of the film. You might think that is a reason to sit through the entire movie, but you would be terribly mistaken. Besides De Niro (who only has three scenes) punching a beautiful woman in the face twice, there isn’t much to see or pay attention to, as Cusack’s performance consists of him sitting in a motel, worrying what will happen next.
Jack (Cusack) has one task. It’s to get a bag, go to a motel in the middle of nowhere, wait in room 13, and deliver it to his boss Dranga (De Niro). The person he gets the bag from shoots him in the hand, there is a crazy wheel chair owner (Glover) at the motel, a midget is pimping out a six foot tall woman dressed like Wonder Woman and there are lots of vile local cops. Jack simply wants his money, and to survive this torturous drop off he has been placed in. However, Rivka (Costa) fears for her life from the pimps and invades Jack’s personal space. As the night grows long and Jack waits for Dranga’s arrival, he still refuses to look inside this mysterious bag.
This is actually the third feature with Cusack in a motel; Identity and 1408 were two other thrillers where the motel was the central location. The Bag Man is shot almost entirely in the dark, which should add to the mystery of the film, but with a clearly dirt poor budget I think it’s more so to hide things. The biggest issue I had with the were scenes like Dranga punching this poor woman in the nose and then giving her the number for a plastic surgeon, it’s an uncreative way to show the audience that he is a “bad man”. In fact, everyone featured in the film has some rotten, murderous agenda.
The editing and the cinematography make The Bag Man look like a television show, and more specifically, a television show in the mid-nineties. The story briefly highlights Jack’s background and the criminal doings of Dranga, but it spends the most screen time on Jack and Rivka brooding in the dark motel. The character development and the revealing of the plot are so uninteresting that I never once thought or cared what was in the bag. Grovic is so out of touch with what a real crime, suspense, mystery film should be that he nearly bores his audience before the not so epic conclusion.
Final Thought – No this is not a story about Shia LeBeouf’s fall from grace, it’s actually worse than that.
By: Dustin Chase
This improbable story is filled with suspense and mystery in the beginning, but as it unravels across time, with one implausible event after another, viewer impatience sets in. By the end, the payoff is far less than satisfying. It’s as if the writers figured out what they wanted to happen first, and then devised scenes that would lead up to it. Want to have blood on the main character’s hands? This is what we’ll do. Want to have a love interest? Let’s put in this. Let’s have this “surprise” ending. And so on.
John Cusack is Jack, who has been hired to pick up a bag and bring it to Dragna (Robert DeNiro), without looking inside. (The perennial Garden of Eden “Don’t Touch” instruction.) He has a hard time getting it, which turns out to be a life-endangering moment that sets him up for mistrust right from the get-go. He is then to take the bag to a certain motel and wait for Dragna to call him and make arrangements to pick it up. He arrives at the motel in the evening, and all through the night he has to contend with one odd person after another turning up at his door, including the motel clerk. One of the characters is a shapely, blue-haired woman (Da Costa) named Rivka, who, after being rebuffed by him outside, manages to get into his room when he has gone on an errand. This is one of the implausible points; why has he left behind such a valuable possession in a room that is far from secure? Moreover, whereas Jack is “true-blue”, Rivka is curious and has found the bag and peaked inside. Jack then continually makes reference to curiosity killing the cat. Dealing with all these people leads to a disaster, and still Dragna has not shown up. When he finally does, we get to hear the whole back story.
There is a little attempt at humor surrounding the woman, in that Jack repeatedly tries to get rid of her (she’s very nosy), but before he can do it, something comes up to stop his plan, and she remains with him. We only find out who she is and why she is at the motel at the very end. In contrast with the fluid, fine acting of Cusack and De Niro, Da Costa is a bit wooden, and sometimes it is hard to understand what she is saying because she runs words together, although this is not a big problem. She is from Brazil, so English is not her native language.
The screenplay for The Bag Man was written by David Grovic, the director, and Paul Conway. It is derived from another screenplay, “Motel” by James Russo, and ultimately based on a novel by a Jungian analyst, Marie-Louise von Franz, entitled The Cat: A Tale of Feminine Redemption, an analysis of a Slavic fairytale. She believed that “when the feminine is liberated... it unites in peace and love with the masculine... In other words, the great hostility between the feminine and masculine principles is overcome." Perhaps this explains Da Costa’s role in the film; and De Niro’s derogatory statements about women reflects his being a symbol of the male who does not allow his feminine side expression. The ending is an attempt to unite feminine and masculine forces, achieving a better, more satisfying balance.
By: Donna R. Copeland