Josie is a sharp-shooting young teen obsessed with Westerns. But while trying to perform a trick, she shoots her brother with an arrow and gets into trouble.
With nowhere else to turn except for her neighborhood friend Ryan, who has a crush on her, she uses her fascination with the Wild West and its legendary outlaws to devise a plan to get money. But putting these plans into action turns Josie into a criminal, until she’s hunted down like the animal she’s become.
Whimsical, exuberant and very, very cool, writer/director Fidel Ruiz-Healy’s stylish neo-Western crime caper renders its tale of adolescent angst and suburban boredom with plenty of panache and verve. Taking the insouciant, irreverent energy of the French New Wave and the rebellious Americana feel of 1970s Hollywood, the considerable stylistic playfulness mirrors the young heroine’s own lawlessness as she attempts to alleviate her small Texas town’s dullness with anarchic imagination.
The central emotional arc is a classic tale of adolescent restlessness and alienation. But the storytelling is less interested in a deep dive into the psychology of Josie, and instead revels in the sheer energy of rebelliousness let loose in a stilted, conformist environment.
The craftsmanship — from the jaunty retro-pop score to the vibrant montages to the stylized camera and photography — injects the story with humor and playfulness. There’s a warmth and brightness in every frame of the short, with added pops of color that add to the film’s vibrancy as we careen along with Josie and Ryan on their crime spree. This being a riff on the Western genre, this gleeful run of crime triggers a classic showdown between law and order that may prove the end of a small but mighty legend in the making.
“A Band of Thieves” never takes itself too seriously, and at times feels very much like a Coke- and sugar-fueled daydream of a bored kid in a small town. Through its bravura technique and mischievous, quirky storytelling, it reflects and celebrates youth, rebellion and the urge to dream bigger and badder than we’re allowed.
The strength and resonance of a film often come less from what it’s “about” and more from how its artistry makes viewers feel. “A Band of Thieves” helps us remember what it means to long for a bigger, wider world, to find a place to put our fight and our might — and how it feels to break out and try to achieve it, through guts and sheer exuberant imagination.