The Split -- which I first reviewed in August 2009 -- and I was less than impressed with the film on my first viewing. When it popped up on Turner Classic Movie's schedule recently, I was going to give it another try. I mean....come on.....look at this cast!
A master thief who's gone off the grid seemingly for several years, a man named McClain (Jim Brown) is reunited with a former partner and an expert planner, Gladys (Julie Harris),
when it comes to pulling off impossible jobs. They team up again,
Gladys putting forth the plan; rob the L.A. Coliseum during an NFL
playoff game that will net $500,000. McClain assembles a team of crooks
who haven't worked together in the past, but he convinces them to put
their differences aside with the thought of a very lucrative payday. The
five-man team goes about planning the job with very little time to do
so. The dangerous job is one thing though, but the fallout from the job
may be even more dangerous, especially when an investigating detective,
Lt. Brill (Gene Hackman), catches wind of them and is right behind them.
For years, this 1968 heist film from director Gordon Flemyng
wasn't available in any form; DVD, VHS, nothing. Now, it's available on
a burn-for-order DVD so if you've never seen it and are dying to catch
up, there it is for you. First or second viewing though, I had the same
issues. 'Split' has a lot of potential, much of it tied to the casting,
but it never quite goes anywhere. It's got the style from its
frame-in-frame credits sequence to its Quincy Jones soundtrack, the on-location shooting at the L.A. Coliseum
to the dark nature of the team of crooks working together. All these
disparate elements never manage to jell, ending up with a heist film
that takes a really bizarre turn in the last third of the movie. A very
disappointing end result because it did have so much potential.
How about that casting though? In assembling his team for the robbery, Brown's McClain brings together Bert Clinger (Ernest Borgnine), a gym owner and strong man, Harry Kifka (Jack Klugman), a down on his luck limo driver who will serve as the team's getaway driver, Marty Gough (Warren Oates), a temperamental safe cracker, and Dave Negli (Donald Sutherland),
a smooth as ice hit man and hired killer. And NFL great turned action
star Jim Brown for good measure?!? How can you lose??? Well, as dark and
dirty as things get, something is missing from the group. The movie
runs only 91 minutes and after McClain's recruiting, things move right
along to the actual heist. The group is full of so many bad guys I never
found myself rooting for them to pull the job off successfully. Still,
it is an impressive grouping of star power, misutilized though they may
I think that's the problem for 'Split' in general.
With so much going on, the right tone is never picked out. It bounces
back and forth and among all these different things. Brown's McClain
meets up with his jilted ex-wife, Ellie (Diahann Carroll), still holding a grudge, but darn it, she still likes him a lot as we see in a montage set to a Jones song as
they walk along a beach. The actual recruiting of the team just feels a
tad bit off, like certain things aren't fitting together well, but it's
entertaining enough. The robbery at the Coliseum lacks a certain energy
with no real catch of anything unique helping them pull the job off.
But the biggest problem? That would be the final half hour.
of the keys to a good heist film is oddly enough, not the heist. It's
the fallout after the job when the cops close in, the team has to wait
for things to cool down to get their money, and seemingly
inevitably....turn on each other. That's fine and dandy, just about any
good heist movie follows that formula. Ready for the derail? It comes in
a really odd one-scene cameo from James Whitmore
as Ellie's creepy landlord. Then, Gene Hackman doesn't even make his
first appearance until 70 minutes into a 90-minute movie. From there on
in, the story and twists and turns feel rushed. It's a pretty dark
ending, but even that feels mishandled. The movie just sort of ends,
leaving all sorts of questions unanswered. A truly disappointing movie,
one that handled differently could have been a near-classic among the
heist genre. Oh, and the above poster is bad, giving the impression the
team is just a bunch of friends out to pull a job. Um.....no.
The Split (1968): **/****
Rewrite of August 2009 review