I kind of felt like I was brought in at the middle of the story. The story is intriguing nevertheless. I’m a sucker for a good fashion heist movie or con movie. In some respects, Righteous Thieves is both. However, I would have appreciated greater context before being dropped in the middle of things. As the film opens up, we are brought into a flashback featuring a younger version of our main character, Annabel, as she attempts to steal a valuable painting. She is discovered by the painting’s owner, who instead of turning her in, takes her in. Based on this introduction, I was expecting the owner, Josef, to be a prominent member of the film. I suppose in spirit he is, but this is the only interaction we get with him, which to my mind was not enough to make the needed lasting impression. In my opinion, we could have benefited from more inclusion of this character, even if it was simply in flashback form. It would have gone miles towards connecting more with the Annabel character played by Lisa Vidal. Vidal isn’t the only familiar face, as the film also features Twilight’s Cam Gigandet, as well as Station 19’s Jaina Lee Ortiz and Carlos Miranda.
Delving back into the story, when we next see the Annabel character, she is older and meeting before a secret organization of which she is apparently the head. Once again, this felt like being brought in at the middle of the story. Prior to this there was no mention of this organization. I would have settled for a simple voiceover explaining the origin of this group and their goals. These details are forthcoming, but I think they would’ve been better served being mentioned up front. In a nutshell, the mission of this organization, dubbed the Syndicate, is to recover priceless artworks stolen by the Nazis during World War II. The organization is made up of Jewish survivors of the war. Annabel, who is not Jewish, leads a team willing to recover these artworks by any means necessary, i.e. stealing them back, usually from the hands of the Nazis’ descendants. When Annabel is brought before the counsel, it is after her latest job went sideways and she made the rash decision to destroy a priceless artwork rather than leave it in the hands of Nazis.
During this discussion is when we learn the bulk of the information about the group, who Josef used to be the head of prior to Annabel. It is also where we learn how passionate about the group’s mission Annabel is, despite not being Jewish herself. It is evident that her passion is born out of her devotion to a man who she views as her savior. Her devotion resonated with me; it gave the character much-needed depth and is among her most redeeming qualities. I also appreciated her willingness to go to extremes to either recover or destroy priceless works of art for the sake of doing good. It reminded me of a quote from Shakepeare’s The Merchant of Venice, “To do a great right, do a little wrong, and curb this cruel devil of his will.” In my opinion, this would have been a great title card for the beginning of the film, a bit of a hint of what the film entailed. This may have been a missed opportunity in that respect, but the film does embody this quote in my opinion, as it is what Annabel stands for. She is a woman who wants to set things right and in the spirit of that is what leads us to the central premise of the movie.
Despite her last job not going as planned, Annabel is undeterred from moving froward with her next plan, recovering a stolen Monet, Picasso, Degas, and Van Gogh from a neo-Nazi billionaire oligarch. Following the failure of the last job, she needs a new crew. She starts with recruiting a loyal lieutenant in the form of Eddie (Carlos Miranda); it is hinted at that he owes Annabel his life, and he is clearly very loyal, essentially willing to follow her over a cliff. Next up is a hacker/tech specialist, Lucille (Jaina Lee Ortiz), who is less inclined to join the crew, as a bit of bad blood is hinted at. Notice that many things are hinted at but not fully addressed. Rounding out the crew is muscle, Bruno (Cam Gigandet). I’m not sure Gigandet fit this role. Not to discount him, but he doesn’t fit the usual profile for this role. I know from his time in Never Back Down that he has experience in combat roles. However, that was back in 2008. To my mind, he would’ve been more fitting in the role with weaponry or with a background in controlled explosives, something similar to what Cheadle brought to the party for the Ocean’s franchise.
When it comes down to the execution of the job, the usual hijinks occur which serve to make a difficult job seem impossible. This is right on par with what I expected. The film does have a bit of deviation by alluding to the prospect of loyalties being tested and Annabel being too close to the job, which clouds her judgement. These deviations are approached, but not out of character for a film this time. Essentially it comes down to the job’s execution, and the audience is treated to at least two major twists, which can be seen from a mile away, but also serve to disguise the much more significant twist. All in all, while there were some elements that could have been improved upon with some simple tweaks, Righteous Thieves still provides a moderately entertaining experience.