As a modernization of Mark Twain’s classic tale The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Band of Robbers follows Tom and his friend Huck Finn. After Huck is released from prison, Tom gets his gang of friends back together in search for a hidden treasure that had eluded them since childhood.
On paper, Band of Robbers sounds like a preposterous idea, but makes for a surprisingly successful film. Capturing the heart of the novel and injecting a quirky, introspective sensibility, here is an example of filmmaking at its most inspired.
Written and directed by the brother duo Adam and Aaron Nee, the two bring a great deal of intelligence and style to the project. Successfully working through the challenges that persist with a micro-budget production, the duo craft a professional look throughout. Displaying an adoration of both Twain’s work and Wes Anderson’s playful sensibilities, the off-kilter whimsy establishes a delightfully distinct tone.
As writers, the duo bring a great deal of their own dynamic to the page, most notably being their oddball sense of humor. A balance between absurdist and clever, the humor is often times hilarious and endearing to watch develop on screen. Even with the absurdity, there is a great deal of naturalism to the conversations.
At the core of Band of Robbers is a strong ensemble cast. Kyle Gallner and Adam Nee share a majority of the screen time, portraying Huck and Tom. The two establish a lived-in relationship, one with its fair share of complexities at its core. Yet, it’s one with much love, as two rejects trying to find themselves in the world. Filling out their rag-tag gang is Matthew Gary Gubler and Hannibal Buress, who fit perfectly in the dynamic. Buress especially is a scene-stealer, with his skills as a comedian creating big laughs.
Thankfully, the film has a great deal on its mind, an aspect audiences may not quite get from the trailers. Several films these days try to explore the manchild dynamic, with few actually succeeding. Here, the Nees capture the boyish, yet foolish optimism of the characters, which is both fun and saddening to see on screen. They’re all wildly over their head, they just quite don’t know it. The duo also capture the desire for fame and grasping at doing something of importance with similar success.
Aside from a few slow moments in the middle act, Band of Robbers is a commendable and bold statement, adapting Twain’s work with both brains and heart. Hopefully the Nee Brothers get more work from here, showing an articulate voice that needs to be heard.