Caper films, where characters come together to pull off a heist or a scam, are either tension-filled psychological dramas or breezy comedy-laced tales. Where the Money Is fits into the latter category and might have been a disposable romp were it not for the casting of the still-formidable Paul Newman as a career bank robber.
His recent film forays have been a mixed bag (Twilight, Message in a Bottle), but the role of Henry Manning is an ideal fit. Few actors project intelligence and resolve like Newman, and he makes the seemingly impossible aspects of his character feel not just probable but easily within his reach.
Manning has had a stroke and is transferred to an Oregon nursing home where his caregiver, Carol Ann McKay (Linda Fiorentino), begins to suspect that he’s faking it. Director Marek Kanievska (Less Than Zero) establishes some tension with this question, but it’s when Manning emerges like Lazarus from his meditative-vegetative state that the film shifts into high gear.
Screenwriter E. Max Frye (Something Wild, Palmetto) enjoys playing with genre expectations and he has a few tricks up his sleeve here. Carol’s marriage to Wayne (Dermot Mulroney) still has passion but lacks possibilities. He’s comfortable with their small-town status quo, while Carol desires those intangibles offered by the outside world. So when this unlikely trio plan to rob an armored car, it soon becomes clear that what’s at stake is a lot more than money.
The performances and low-key atmosphere of Where the Money Is make it an enjoyable diversion about the pleasures of transgression. When the police yell for them to come out with their hands up, Newman puts a lifetime’s worth of mischief into the reply: "You haven’t lived until you’ve heard someone say that to you."
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].