“Band of Robbers” stands out most for its impressive contribution from Adam Nee, who wrote, directed, and starred in his modern version of Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn.” Everything about this movie was fantastic -- the acting, the cinematography, and the story. The classic tale of adventure, friendship, and redemption are wonderfully retold in this funny and charming film.
This film has also become a staff favorite at the Heartland Film Festival, and rightfully so. It represents the essence of the boyhood dream of hunting treasure that would have made Mark Twain proud.
To begin the screening, Adam and Aaron Nee took the stage to thank everyone for coming out.
“This is such an amazing film festival, we are so honored to be here,” Adam told the crowd. He then asked, “Has anyone seen the Power Rangers movie? This is different than that...I just wanted to know who had seen it,” he said, as a few sheepish festival-goers who raised their hands.
That audience interaction is why Wheeler Arts Community is arguably the best venue for the festival. In addition, the authentic vibe of about 100 chairs on a flat surface with a screen at the end of an old brick room gives off a less stuffy feel than traditional theaters. Moviegoers can better relate with art films in Fountain Square than at a mall.
The cinematography is truly spectacular in this bright and purposefully kitschy film. The characters wear brightly colored, outlandish outfits and the timing is just off enough to make it realistically funny. Fans of Wes Anderson will feel his influence throughout.
Huckleberry Finn is played by Kyle Gallner, who has appeared in films such as “American Sniper,” and “Dear White People.” Now an adult who has been in and out of prison his whole life, he contniues following Tom Sawyer in his (mis)adventures. Huck is picked up from prison by Sawyer, who is now a police officer and is still scheming to find the hidden treasure they have been hunting for since they were kids.
Adam Nee, plays the part of Tom Sawyer with a swagger and boyish charm that makes him a believable character. Nee performed as one of main characters while also directing the film. Sawyer feels that he is living in the shadow of his older brother, a respected detective who receives the keys to the city during the film. Meanwhile, Sawyer is hatching plans to make the whole world see him as a hero and for everyone to respect him. His plan is to find Murel’s treasure.
So Sawyer calls together the “Band of Robbers” to find the hidden treasure. The band includes the hugely popular Matthew Gray Gubler, who is known for his role as Spencer Reid in “Criminal Minds,” and for the film “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” Gubler plays Joe Harper, a misfit with seemingly no direction in life, but he does rock some awesome threads. He wears a red head wrap and colorful short-shorts throughout the film, which showcase his character's personality and humor. For a character acting naturally as a strange man who is just along for the ride, his performance is fantastic.
Hannibal Buress, a well-known stand-up comedian who appeared in the show “Broad City” and now has his own show called “Why?”plays the role of Ben Rogers with the classically off-time delivery that Buress is known for. His brand of humor might be quirky but it translates perfectly to another misfit member of the Band of Robbers.
Johnny Pemberton is the third and final member of the band. Pemberton is best known for being in “21 Jump Street” and “22 Jump Street” and plays the role of Tommy Barnes. Barnes has a real life and a wife, so he immediately quits the band of robbers. He comically reappears in the film as the band uses his basement, man-cave as their meeting place.
The Band of Robbers set out for Murel’s treasure, which is in the safe of a nearby pawn shop. But now, Tom Sawyer sees the robbery as heroic and not as a crime because it was so old and it goes by the pirate code.
“Robbin Hood you know, robbing the rich giving money to the poor, keeping some for yourself, keeping all for yourself what’s the difference?” Sawyer asks the band.
Unsurprisingly, the heist goes wrong and the rest of the film shows the crew trying to fix what they had done. What they choose to do and how they do it creates the charm of the film. Redemption, honesty, and friendship prevail; but I won’t give away too much. People should see this great coming of age film for themselves.
The film kicks off with a signature quote from Mark Twain:
“Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”
This rings true for “Band of Robbers” as well: it doesn’t have to be world changing, it just has to be honest and enjoyable.
The last showing for the film at Heartland Film Festival is today at 4:15 p.m (click for tickets). at AMC Castleton. Anyone who missed seeing it at the festival or wants to see it again can find the film online through all major streaming sources starting January 15, and can expect a theatrical release in June.
If you have the time to see it today, you won’t regret it. If you do go see it, make sure you vote on the ballot.
“Don’t forget to vote for the audience award, if we win they are going to let my dad out of jail,” Nee said.