Enough goes right in The Anderson Tapes that it’s almost possible to overlook the huge problem at the movie’s center: The main storyline of an apartment-building heist is exciting, but the gimmick of observing certain events through illicit wiretaps and surveillance cameras is pointless. In other words, the “Anderson” part is pretty good, but the “Tapes” part, not so much. Based on a novel by Lawrence Sanders and written and directed, respectively, by future Dog Day Afternoon collaborators Frank Pierson and Sidney Lumet, The Anderson Tapes begins when thief Duke Anderson (Sean Connery) gets released from jail after a 10-year incarceration. He heads straight to the bed of his sexy girlfriend, Ingrid (Dyan Cannon), who lives in a posh apartment building as a wealthy man’s kept mistress. Duke decides Ingrid’s building is a treasure trove waiting to be robbed, so he contacts a well-heeled gangster (Alan King) for backing, and then puts together a motley crew to pull off the job. Anderson’s colorful accomplices include a swishy art expert (Martin Balsam) and a cocksure electronics whiz/safecracker (Christopher Walken).
As in all of Lumet’s New York-based crime pictures, the pleasure of The Anderson Tapes comes from watching cops and hoodlums methodically plan their respective efforts, because Lumet has a peerless touch for grounding high-stakes action in believable character dynamics. In his universe, crooks and police officers wrestle with mundane problems like budget shortfalls, looming deadlines, and workplace tension. Thanks to these nuances, the robbery scenes and the police-standoff climax are terrific. However, nearly everything else about The Anderson Tapes is wobbly.
Duke’s relationship with Ingrid is unbelievable, since her loyalty wavers in a manner that’s narratively convenient. Balsam’s characterization is borderline offensive. And the whole business with the surveillance tapes is a miscalculation: We see various parties recording Anderson’s activities, and we get the idea he’s stepped into a web of illegal wiretaps installed to catch bigger fish, but this angle never affects the story. Still, the performances are generally strong. Connery is macho and believably frustrated by his dubious cohorts; King is cheerfully vicious; Cannon is cynical and sultry; and Walken, in his first major screen role, brings his signature twitchy energy. Even Balsam, despite the insensitive characterization, is quite enjoyable. And watch out for future Saturday Night Live star Garrett Morris as a world-weary beat cop.
The Anderson Tapes: FUNKY