Barry Levinson: Balancing Act

Barry Levinson takes a break from Baltimore with the inspired robbers-on-the-run comedy Bandits.


Barry Levinson's pendulum has swung again. Since the beginning of his career as a director, Levinson has alternated between big-budget, star-driven material--including The Natural, Rain Man (which earned him an Oscar), Bugsy, Disclosure and Sphere--and smaller, character-driven stories, most of them--including Diner, Tin Men and Avalon--set in his native Baltimore. With his latest, the crime-spree-love-triangle comedy Bandits, Levinson returns to a larger, splashier canvas after a pair of more modest offerings, the '50s-set Baltimore dramedy Liberty Heights and the Northern Ireland toupee-salesmen trifle An Everlasting Piece.

"I do go back and forth between larger and smaller movies," says Levinson, "but it isn't as if I make a decision that I'm going to do two of those and one of these. I just liked the dynamic of a woman who falls in love with two men and doesn't want to make a choice."

In Bandits, written by Harley Peyton, that woman is Kate, an attention-starved housewife--played by Cate Blanchett--whose humdrum suburban existence livens up considerably when she is taken hostage by two notorious bank robbers--Joe, a closet romantic with serious anger-management issues played by Bruce Willis, and Terry, a motor-mouthed hypochondriac played by Billy Bob Thornton.

Smart, funny and refreshingly unpredictable, the film offers something for everyone. Comedy fans will enjoy the absurd situations and arch banter. Action lovers will cheer the explosions, gunfights and car chases. Cinephiles will appreciate the references to such on-the-lam classics as Bonnie and Clyde, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and It Happened One Night. And '80s obsessives will treasure the sequence in which Blanchett sobs her way through Bonnie Tyler's overwrought power ballad "Total Eclipse of the Heart."

"I played the song for Cate to see if it would hold up," laughs Levinson, "and it definitely did."


Juan Morales