An average, ordinary, unambitious bank teller who lives alone, works on chess problems by himself, and collects tropical fish discovers an opportunity to rob a robber and finds himself in a cat-and-mouse chase where the winner takes the money and the loser winds up dead.
The teller is Miles (Elliott Gould), who works at small bank in a large Toronto shopping mall. One day, he spies Harry Reikle (Christopher Plummer) dressed as a Santa ringing a bell outside the bank, but he seems to be more interested in who is coming and going from the bank than the kids asking for toys. Miles realizes this Santa is scoping the bank out in order to rob it. The next morning he takes a tin box with him to work and places it just below the cash drawer. When he sees Santa coming, he takes out most of the cash from the drawer and puts it into his box.
When Harry comes to indeed rob the place, Miles hands him the few bills left in the drawer, which activates a silent alarm and turns on the cameras (because apparently Canadian banks in the 1970s were places where tellers could easily move money from the cash drawers and into their pockets with nobody noticing and without cameras rolling, simpler times as they say). Everybody then thinks that Harry got away with the entire load of cash and Miles can rest easy with most of the take. That is until Harry happens to watch the news footage of the robbery and realizes what must have happened when the cash he stole is a lot less than the totals being reported.
Therein begins the rather clever game of cat and mouse. Unfortunately for Miles, he stole from a violent psychopath who just happens to be a bank robber. Harry begins stalking him. First, he calls Miles’s apartment from a payphone just outside, then he breaks in trashing the place and killing the fish. The violence escalates and Miles just barely stays one step ahead.
Director Daryl Duke mixes the back and forth between robbers with the banality of Mile’s regular life. We see him making deposits for businessmen, and poorly flirting with his coworker (Susannah York). We watch him at business parties where his boss scores with the pretty new girl. We see him shopping and feeding his exotic fish. His life is full of boredom and he’s not very good at it. You can see why he’s suddenly enjoying himself, finally taking risks and doing something dangerous and interesting. He seems surprised to see him doing it himself.
As he outsmarts Harry, he gains confidence. He takes risks in order to completely foil Harry. He steals Harry’s exotic girlfriend (Celine Lomez) and gets the pretty coworker to notice him. It is all great fun to watch.
Elliot Gould is at his most Elliot Gould-ness. Picture his take on Phillip Marlow in The Long Goodbye with a little more awareness and a lot less gumption. Plummer has never been more menacing. He seethes with a desperate anger that is perpetuated with nasty violence. The secondary cast (including a young John Candy in a rare non-comedic role) are solid. The script by Curtis Hanson works with clockwork precision. There isn’t an ounce of fluff. Every scene either moves the plot along or enhances our understanding of the characters.
The film was shot in Canada and financed through some kind of tax shelter the government set up. It did pretty well there but was barely shown in the U.S. As such it has been mostly forgotten, but it is well worth seeking out. This new Kino Lorber Studio Classics release is the perfect way to find it. Their Blu-ray has a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and a 1080p transfer. Extras include an interview with Elliott Gould; audio commentary by film historians Howard S. Bergen, Steve Mitchell, and Nathaniel Thompson; and the usual radio spots and trailers.