Vol. 6, No. 1 April 2002
 I really didn't expect to
be writing a review of this film, having gone to it in one of those
escapist modes, but some of the ideas kept nagging me and here I am
writing. Bandits is one of
those fun, enjoyable films that yet makes you think. Its mixture of
lightheartedness with religious significance reminds me of films like Groundhog
Day, Run Lola Run, or City Slickers.
 The story is simple: two
cons, Joe (Bruce Willis) and Terry (Billy Bob Thornton), break out of
prison and rob a bunch of banks. "Joe” is the typical Bruce Willis
character, hard-nosed and physically tough, but we also see him reading
Sun-Tzu's Art of War and
quoting from the Tao Te Ching.
He is hot tempered at the beginning, and his spontaneity seems to have
led him into troubles. By practicing "anger management,” as Terry
keeps encouraging him, he is able to keep the temper down, meanwhile
maintaining his spontaneous actions and putting them to positive use.
Terry is his opposing force, the psychosomatically-challenged smart guy
who comes up with plans when necessary. He is the yang to Joe's yin.
There is constant tension between them, but they just keep moving along,
working together seamlessly and achieving their goals.
 Terry and Joe learn not to
"attack” banks, storming in with guns blazing, but to go with the
flow, making things up as they go. This doesn't seem like a good idea
at first, especially to Terry, but Joe persists in a classic Taoist
attitude of non-action (wu wei).
Their first heist is undertaken with nothing but a magic marker, and
while guns enter into the picture, this is a film in which no one ever
gets shot and no one gets killed. Well, almost, but I won't tell all.
Terry and Joe become known as the "sleepover bandits” because they
"kidnap” bank managers the night before the heist, keeping them
hostage in their own house and then heading to the bank in the morning
before anyone else arrives for work. These "sleepovers” become a
particular point of hilarity as Terry and Joe join in family
conversations with the hostaged family, even helping the kids cut their
food. Rather than going directly against the bank people, they work
alongside them. As a result, they become legends in short time, and by
the end of the film bank managers gladly welcome them into their homes.
In true Taoist fashion, the bad guys are hardly distinguishable from the
 The tension between the two,
however, is challenged by the presence of Kate (Cate Blanchett), a
bored, rich housewife looking for a new adventure. As the viewer
expects, she ends up romantically involved with both Terry and Joe at
different times, and this threatens to separate them. This has some nice
twists to it though, and rather than it being the boys fighting over the
one girl, she steps in and challenges their possessive behavior. She
tells them, "between the two of you, you are the perfect man,” but
she refuses to choose between the two, instead opting to allow the
dynamism of their yin and yang energies to maintain full force. Kate
makes Joe and Terry acknowledge their necessary bonds to each other, and
in some ways they together become a "masculine” energy that must be
complemented by her "feminine” energy.
 Shot at some of the most
beautiful spots along the west coast, the scenery helps create a lush,
flowing, mystical feel to the film, lending visual-formal credence to
its borrowings from Taoism. Images of the ocean, sunsets, and other
rhythms of the natural world coalesce to allow the viewer into the
energies of life. Bandits is
an action film, yet I've never been so relaxed watching a bank
 Director Barry Levinson (Diner,
Good Morning Vietnam, and Rain
Man) and former Twin Peaks
writer Harley Peyton put together a funny, intelligent show. No classic
film this one, but certainly a fun, and perhaps useful one for
illustrations of Taoism in the classroom.
Journal of Religion and Film 2002
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