It's not that you have to like the characters in a film (or play or novel, for that matter). But you have to at least find them interesting. The problem with many crime, punishment, and redemption stories (Dostoevsky clearly excluded) is that the criminals are presented — and in all likelihood it's an accurate depiction — as low-IQ thugs who may or may not have been abused themselves. The portrayals of victims and/or survivors are usually not fascinating either, however brutalized they were by the crime. Take is a classic example of this genre's stumbling blocks.
Take is set on death row, in the final hours of a man awaiting execution by lethal injection. A compulsive gambler in debt to gangsters, Saul (Jeremy Renner) held up a store, killing a cashier and a young child (Bobby Coleman) he took hostage. Ana (Minnie Driver), the mother of the dead boy, is coming to witness Saul's execution. Told from both points of view and moving back and forth in time, the film recounts the crime and the events leading up to it. Take presents snippets of the characters' equally bleak lives and the way in which two strangers collide and are irretrievably altered as a result of a chance encounter.
The acting is not the issue. Renner is spot-on as the luckless simpleton who is barely able to control his actions, though he makes a gallant effort at the end to take responsibility for what he did. His philosophical discussion with the minister is certainly well-done. Similarly, Driver embodies a woman devoured by hatred and vengeful bloodlust. Most interesting, however, is Coleman as the hyperactive, mentally challenged youngster who was at the wrong place at the wrong time; one of the more memorable scenes is the boy's joy at acquiring a new pair of oversized red boots.
But pacing is a problem throughout, with sections dragging interminably. Equally nettlesome is the lack of plausibility in the film's conclusion: Take tackles the emotionally charged topic of forgiveness with little success or originality. Indeed, it brings to mind the Oscar Hijuelos novel Mr. Ives' Christmas and the Bryony Lavery play Frozen.
And none of it is helped by the gritty realism--from Saul being escorted down death row in chains to his being strapped to the gurney to the insertion of the needle into his arm to his hyperventilating in graphic detail as the deadly liquid drips into his veins in real time. It's repellent without providing any fresh insights.
Written and directed by: Charles Oliver
Starring: Minnie Driver, Jeremy Renner, Bobby Coleman