The Whiskey Bandit turned out to be a professionally orchestrated, dynamic genre piece with convincing acting and splendid music. BY TÍMEA HUNGLER.
The movie about the Whiskey Bandit had not even premiered yet, people were already debating whether there may/must/ought to be a film about the most famous Hungarian bank robber – especially during his lifetime. It was of course always beyond dispute that his person and thrilling life story was exciting enough to deserve a script, the concerns regarding him were always moral in nature.
Attila Ambrus was already raised to some sort of Hungarian superhero status during his criminal reign (1993-1999), which was less due to the fact that he robbed quite a few banks freaking out the employees and clients who happened to be there, and more to the way he made the police look foolish for years – and he did so with style: he applied disguises and he popped into a nearby pub for a glass of whiskey before the robberies. The Hungarian public opinion that had grown up on gangster flicks and romances and was taking its first steps towards westernization was swept off its feet at once: our own Butch Cassidy and/or John Dillinger was long overdue.
Following closely Ambrus’s cat-and-mouse game with the Hungarian authorities, it is fair to say that we were able to witness the rise and fall of a real old school criminal in post-1989 Hungary, a man who worked hard for his (our) money, as opposed to those who committed much more intricate crimes with more convoluted methods acquiring massive fortunes and power, and never saw the inside of a jail – unlike the Whiskey Bandit. Even though common sense told us that we were dealing with an armed robber – hardly a path to be followed by the younger generation – instead of a bank robber, ordinary people saw the defiant rebel in the Whiskey Bandit, who flipped off the rich and powerful (banks/police) in their name as well.
Nimród Antal cleverly sensed that he could not create a hero out of Ambrus, he could not depict him as a role model. Instead, he needed to grasp and convey the ambivalence with which we regard the Whiskey Bandit to the present day. To that end he created a nemesis in the script in the character of detective Bartos (Zoltán Schneider) – a role condensing the several detectives who worked on the case in the nineties. The sweaty, frustrated, pill popping, middle-aged detective working in a shabby office is the one of the two protagonists who bears the burdens of an average Hungarian, and on top of all he has to endure the success and popularity of a handsome bank robber in his early thirties (Bence Szalay) questioning everything he believes in and dedicated his life to. In other words, the figure of Bartos helps to keep the balance when we become too sympathetic with the Whiskey Bandit seeing his bitter childhood in the Ceauşescu era, when we get all soft seeing his cute dog or his happiness on realising that for the first time in his life he has a whole flat to himself.
The Whiskey Bandit is a biopic embedded into a dynamic action movie, a typical piece of its genre. The biographical components are revealed by the frame of the film (Ambrus’s police interrogation), and are the main strengths of the movie along with the action scenes. Antal often uses the method of condensation: the images of Péter Szatmári sum up typical life stages or years, and these blocks of clip-like editing and the creative use of the soundtrack are worth a thousand words. One such memorable phase is Ambrus’s desperate quest for his citizenship – the relentless waiting for the corrupt politician (Imre Csuja), the hopelessly incessant sound of the ringing phone, the sweeping, tense score of Yonderboi (a little reminiscent of Sicario), and the camera zooming out from the upset figure of Ambrus all grasp the emotions and the situations of our title character.
Thanks to the camera angles (we often chase the characters or see the sites from above following the chaos) and the close ups, the action scenes leave the viewers with the feeling of being present at the robberies or escapes – these scenes, however, just like the biographical blocks, do not „stick out” from the film, they seamlessly fit the interrogation scenes or the longer dialogues.
Self-references, such as the romance sprouting in the subway (à la Kontroll – the loved one is played by Piroska Móga), or the name Fábri flashing on a hockey shirt invoking Meteo, or the insertion of the ironically interpreted wisdom of aunt Lenke (Juci Komlós) from Neighbours make The Whiskey Bandit a true Nimród Antal film. And the most convincing venture of the director since Kontroll. But while Kontroll was an auteur film playing with mass appeal ingredients, The Whiskey Bandit is clearly a commercial project, a professionally executed action movie meant to entertain, albeit one that occasionally uses darker tones, and gives glimpses of a few of Antal’s favourite themes, such as defencelessness, poverty and the desire for freedom.