Roger (Christopher Walken) has a tragic life, full of boredom, insecurity, and loneliness. Granted, he’s married to a woman who loves him (Marcia Gay Harden) and he has a solid job as an art museum security guard. But Roger’s chief inspiration is “The Lonely Maiden,” a painting in his section of the museum that is being shipped off to Denmark, thanks to a money-making deal on the part of the museum’s changeover to a more “public-friendly” entertainment facility. But when Charles (Morgan Freeman) presents him with a plan to “rescue” their favorite paintings from moving to Denmark, a gradual awakening occurs.
Roger and Charles are joined in their quest to steal their favorite works by the alleged one-time Navy SEAL George (William H. Macy). Honestly, with the exception of Harden’s character, the film might as well be a three-person play intended for the stage. The considerable talents of Freeman, Walken, and Macy play out well in this storyline, even if they play roles we’re not used to. More specifically, while Macy has made an artform out of playing neutered male roles, we’ve rarely seen Walken and Freeman cower and whine in the way they do here. But knowing who else they have been (Frank White, God, Max Zorn, etc.) makes this even more delightful as they play outside the box.
As Roger, Charles, and George collaborate on breaking their favorite paintings out of the museum, they have a series of low-level inconveniences that cause them to change plans and adapt, and discover a courage within themselves that they did not realize that they possessed before. In the final effort, they need Harden’s help, and the couple ends up taking the vacation that she has always wanted. But the effects of the robbery, and Roger’s emergence from a debilitating isolation, are what make the film inspiring.
The movie serves the kind of purpose that The Bucket List did for examining your life and recognizing that you could be many things, but sitting on the sidelines isn’t going to be terribly fulfilling. Because of that, it seems like the film is most likely to be best received by older viewers, who feel isolated by their age, their job, or just their life situation, who are longing for a “spark.” On the other hand, there is a lesson here on what it means to live life fully because you can, and not vicariously, through art, through film, through sex, through television, through drugs… and the list goes on.
I’m reminded of the words of Jesus where we are inspired to give up our lives to really find them, to recognize that sacrifice leads to real living. That truth lies here, behind the paintings, behind the efforts of three aging men to make a difference, behind a poorly-planned heist. Sometimes, you have to give up your life to find it.