Everyone loves a good grifter story, and there is often a good deal of fun in “based on true story” movies. Rich and amusing characters make up the ensemble of characters in Bandit, a film by Allan Ungar starring Josh Duhamel, but it is the star who enchants audiences. Canadian director Ungar and his screenwriter Kraig Wenman (adapting a book by Robert Knuckle) seemingly love their lead character and are as charmed by his story as everyone else.
Robert Whiteman (an alias) escapes from prison and goes on a crime spree that crosses Canada. After escaping an American jail, Gilbert Galvan Jr, becomes Whiteman by buying a homeless man’s ID so that he can get a cruddy job selling ice cream. Soon fired, Whiteman, who wants to go straight, has trouble finding gainful employment because of his sorted past. Apparently, even in Canada, the road to legit work is difficult for an escaped and wanted convict. Desperate and determined, Robert turns back to crime. Robert falls in love with Andrea (Elisha Cuthbert) and manages a slightly normal existence, but his focus is on bringing in the money.
Duhamel shines in Bandit, and I wonder if Galvan was quite as charismatic as portrayed by this dynamic actor. Duhamel’s appeal comes in his vibrant smile and devil-may-care looks. His Robert contrasts nicely with a local loan shark names Tommy (played wonderfully by Mel Gibson). Tommy has all the markings of a mafia-type tough guy, but it turns out he’s a reasonably nice guy who owns a strip club and strong-arms clients who don’t pay their debts. And yet, he, too, charms. Gibson and Duhamel have notable chemistry and play well off each other.
Bandit is fun because of its nearly unbelievable story and its vibrant lead. According to Robert’s story, Canada in the 1980s seemed more congenial for bank robbers to practice their trade. Only a few people seem bothered by Robert’s exploits (even her girlfriend comes on board), basically ignoring all his criminal activities. The film makes for an entertaining, tranquil, and often hysterical look at life as an escapee and bank robber who charms even us.