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October 31, 2018

Denver Film Festival - The Whiskey Bandit

whiskey bandit.jpg

A viszkis
Nimrod Antal - 2017
Viszkis Films

There are times when I think the Hungarian-American filmmaker Nimrod Antal was born about sixty years too late. There was a time when Hollywood had a place for directors who made smart action movies with terrific set pieces on modest size budgets. I'm thinking of directors like Joseph H. Lewis with his single take bank robbery in Gun Crazy, and Don Siegel with the car chase through San Francisco in The Line-Up. In contemporary Hollywood, Twenty to Forty-million dollars is not huge amount, and with Predators and especially Armored, Antal has demonstrated a clear ability to make the most within the confines of genre filmmaking. But had Antal been working decades ago, there would not be the seven year gap between Predators, and his new Hungarian produced The Whiskey Bandit.

Antal begins with a breathtaking traveling shot of the title character, Atilla Ambrus, in close-up in a bar, drinking a shot of whiskey. The camera follows him walking down stairs, out to the street, crossing to the other side, stepping into a bank, concluding with Ambrus taking out his pistol and announcing that he has come to rob the bank. Again, this is all done in a single take that takes several minutes.

A fictionalized version based on a real life character, the film is structures as a series of flashbacks with Ambrus telling his life story to a criminal prosector. As a young boy in Romania, Ambrus is dragged out of church, his ear gripped by a priest. That Atilla has eaten communion wafers and drank wine makes no difference to his indulgent grandmother. A childhood being shuttled between uncaring relatives ends with a stint in a grim reformatory. A talent at target practice isn't enough to keep Ambrus in the military, and he goes AWOL, traveling from Romania to Hungary, strapped underneath a freight train.

Lack of skating ability doesn't keep Ambrus from talking his way into joining a pro hockey team, as a practice goaltender and maintenance man. The bank robbery is first out of the desire to buy a fake proof of citizenship, with the enjoyment of the luxuries money can buy eventually taking over, often at the cost of Ambrus' ability as a hockey player. Ambrus became legendary in Hungary for the number of banks he robbed, as well as his escape from an allegedly secure prison. As a professional athlete, Ambrus' reputation has taken a more serious hit, with an article in USA today describing him as the world's worst goaltender.

Nimrod Antal has stated that one of his favorite directors is Stanley Kubrick. The influence is seen with the series of traveling shots and frequent lateral tracking shots. There are two major chase scenes. First Ambrus on motorcycle pursued by a guard, weaving in and out of the streets of Budapest. The second involved a chase with Ambrus in a taxi, the driver played by the real Ambrus, followed by police cars and armed security forces, with collisions and near misses, the kind of action where the bar was set by The French Connection. Antal understands that a good action set piece does not mean chopping the footage up into a million little pieces that are frenetic and visually incomprehensible. Both chases are based on the camera following the action long enough to have a sense of the space of the moment, and the choreography between the characters.

The Whiskey Bandit does not have a U.S. distributor at the time of this writing. Taking advantage of festival viewings is highly encouraged.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 31, 2018 08:00 AM