In the mood for an entertaining caper film? Then check out Stefan
Schwartz's comedy SHOOTING FISH. The movie's title is a slang term
meaning to swindle, but the two leading characters, Jez and Dylan (played
winningly by Stuart Townsend and Dan Futterman, respectively) have altered
the meaning slightly. Rather than just defrauding for the sake of it, they have
amended the term whereby they rip off the wealthy for the benefit of poor
The idea for the film came from Schwartz and his writing partner Richard
Holmes. As Schwartz explained, "I guess there's not been that many con movies
around in the last few years and certainly none coming out of Britain, you know
with scams and stuff. We were finishing up another film which we hated writing
and we were so relieved just to have got it done. We started telling each other
stories, sort of urban myths, you know the sort of apocryphal stories that always
seem to have happened to your best friend's best friend or something which have
little twists in the tale and very quickly actually came up with this story of two
guys — very roughly based on Rich and I.
"Rich is an American by birth and very talky — we met at university
(which is 14, 15 years ago). We started telling each other these stories. We
had a great story that had happened to his sister's boyfriend's dad — it's
apocryphal but it isn't because the guy actually turned up at the screening.
But he worked for the Krays and when the Krays went to prison, a lot of the
people who worked for them needed cash jobs and went into industrial painting
and decorating. They would go up to these huge gasometers and the foreman
would go okay well you need to paint all these dots of rust and the go okay
give us a month. The foreman would disappear and they would call in all their
friends, get tennis balls, dip them in the paint and chuck them up. And
disappear off for another three weeks and call the foreman back and he'd say
"And it was those kinds of stories. And I'd read about this guy who had
noticed that all the locks were linked and had been going into different people's
houses and robbing just little things, so they wouldn't really notice. A five that
had been left on the table or a little piece of jewelry and you know they'd just
think they mislaid them or lost them and then someone caught him in their house
— he'd thought they'd left and they hadn't and they looked in his house and
found all this stuff and I just thought take that and pervert it into the loft
insulation thing. It was kind of partly from those stories and partly — you know,
I've got a very technical background, so I've always been inventing things all
the way through my childhood, so I put in as many adventures as I could."
Funding for the film came when they "won the lottery" via the Arts Council
of England (which was funded through the National Lottery), "We were one of
the first films to be funded by them. They put up half the money but they
wanted distribution and the other half in place. So, having to struggle for
ages with TV companies trying to get the film made. All of them said it's not
an issue-based film, we need an issue-based film." Schwartz persevered, got
the distribution deal with Fox Searchlight and SHOOTING FISH got made.
Amazingly, the three leads (Kate Beckinsale rounds out the main cast)
all were cast via open calls and readings. Beckinsale, who up to her casting in
this movie had been noted for her work in period pieces like Kenneth Branagh's
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and the TV adaptation of EMMA, displays a
charm and verve heretofore not seen on screen. Co-star Dan Futterman
attributes much of that to the actress who came into rehearsals and "added
a huge amount to her part which was really underwritten. Whatever kind
of sass and intelligence that she's added to it is a lot of her. She's a very
smart, funny woman and she definitely took [her role] in an edgier way than
it was written. It was much more sweet and simple to begin with." Indeed,
the actors display a fine chemistry that may in part be do to the rehearsal
period. Futterman explained that he and co-star Stuart Townsend "were
both sort of outsiders wandering around London. He from Dublin, me from
New York. So we did a lot of exploring together."
Director Schwartz also had them work together pulling off a couple of
cons in part to foster a feeling of teamwork. "One was a phone scam. One
was out on the street on Oxford Street," Futterman explained. "I'm standing
there hawking perfume — Chanel, Givenchy — and amazingly these women
come up to buy perfume from this kind of smarmy-looking American on the
corner with a briefcase full of samples. Looking and poking around. Stuart
walks up and in his very sort of sweet Irish accent says he's looking for
some perfume and can I suggest something for his girlfriend. He's going
to visit her in Guilford and take the train out to see her and he's kind of
giving all this extra information. I suggest the Chanel, as a salesman
would, and he produces a one-hundred pound note and I say, "Come on,
man, it's my first sale of the day. Don't you have anything smaller?"
Then I take the money, yell "Cops!" and shut the briefcase and take
off around the corner.
"He's left stranded there and Stuart, being the terrific actor that he is,
starts to cry, saying that was all his money, he's stranded. And these women
take out their wallets and hand him ten and twenty pound notes. It was
absolutely amazing. And this one woman chased me around the corner with
her umbrella, 'You get over here you bastard! I saw what you did.' Stefan was
videotaping it all. Telling these people it was actually a scam took more
convincing than the actual scam did. Most of them were like, 'No, no darling.
Keep the money. Go see your girlfriend.' It was incredible!"
So what is it about this film that makes it so good? A terrific script, an
unusual story and wonderful performances. The opening sequences are a hoot
as the audience is introduced to Jez and Dylan in their respective orphanages.
Dylan is a charmer and a fast-talker. Jez is clearly destined to be a technological
nerd. It seems only natural that these two would somehow hook up (in a
flashback we learn it was when they were both hired to paint a gasometer.)
The actors are also a perfect contrast, Townsend is all quiet innocence while
Futterman excels at being the salesman. Beckinsale rounds out the trio as a
tart, aristocratic medical student moonlighting as a secretary who falls for
Townsend with an agenda of her own. Even when the law closes in on Jez and
Dylan, they don't give up hope. This being a true romantic comedy, everything
gets sorted out in the end. It's as if Jane Austen had written TO CATCH A THIEF.
In addition to the deft script (which includes a wonderful jab at the
musical oeuvre of Andrew Lloyd Webber), steady direction and winning
performances, special mention should be addressed to production designer
Max Gottlieb who designed a fantastic interior of a gasometer where Jez and
Dylan have set up housekeeping. Crammed with inventive tchotchkes and
whimsical touches, it is a marvel to behold and represents what these two
orphan grifters are aiming for—a home of their own. Also of note is the films
soundtrack with mixes an original score with Burt Bacharach (the music of
choice for Jez and Dylan at home) and more contemporary British musicians
like Space, Supereal and Huge Big Thing. Overall, SHOOTING FISH is a
pleasant diversion, a throwback to the caper films of the 1960s and a bloody
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, suggestive
humor and language
Running time: 103 mins.
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.