THE crimes, as expected in a film with such an interesting line-up of stars, are smooth, their heists slick even when things go wrong, and their firepower is great enough to blast through most of the dead spots in the story.
The crew of robbers is led by Jesse (Idris Elba), whose English accent is presumably meant to give them a gloss of class. They’re all comfortable with each other, know their business and seem to be set for a lifetime of lucrative heists. But their cosy set-up is disturbed by the sudden appearance of an old gang member,
Ghost (played by T.I.) has just been released from prison and is out to reclaim what he thinks he’s owed. Ghost’s sense of betrayal isn’t helped much by the fact that his former girlfriend (Zoe Zaldanha) is now shacked up with one of the crew, Jake (Michael Ealy).
Personal rivalries, envy and simmering histories of hurt spice up relations between the robbers, teasing the audience with a multitude of tangents that could lead all the careful planning into a conflagration of revenge.
On the other side of the divide are two cops (Matt Dillon and Jay Hernandez) who have their own special relationship, both professional and private, that threatens to come unstuck.
Oddly, their buddiness is less convincing, less intimate than the bond that binds their adversaries, whose character nuances cast them into an anti-heroic rather than villainous mould.
This is exemplified by Jesse, who apart from being a criminal mastermind tries to keep his crackhead sister on the straight and narrow.
His crew, moreover, see themselves not just as petty criminals, but as “takers ”, a romanticised identity borrowed from how Genghis Khan is said to have legitimised his own campaign of murder and pillage.
Trying to kick up the tone with a philosophy of crime doesn’t really work all that well and is soon forgotten as the traditional formula of guns, betrayal and counter-betrayal explode in a sustained orgy of violence, cruelty and perverse heroism. And the cop sort-of gets his man.