In his directorial debut, writer/actor Seth McTigue decided to tackle the hefty subject of parents and children. In his crime thriller Take the Night, the relationship between a parent and child, in this case primarily fathers and sons, is explored via two different families on converging paths, exploring the present by way of the past and asking questions like “How did I get here? Why am I like this? What choices am I making today based on yesterday?.” Take the Night is a lean 83-minute crime thriller in which the audience is prompted to consider that wealth comes not from what one has but what one values. It’s rare to say, but, in this instance, adding some fat onto this meal would not only make it far more savory, but give it the depth it only hints at.
To celebrate his baby brother’s, Robert’s, (Sam Li) 25th birthday, William Chang (Roy Huang) hires Chad (McTigue) to pretend to kidnap Robert and drop him off at the location of a surprise party. The two brothers have a difficult relationship, strained further by the death of their father (Kelvin Han Yee) and the pressures that come from running the family business, and William sees this as a way to help his brother loosen up. What William doesn’t know is that Chad is the leader of a four-person team of career criminals who see this as an opportunity to get their largest score yet.
Because there’s more going on in Take the Night than the official synopsis (and my summarized version) hint at, those elements will remain unidentified. What will be addressed is that the film succeeds and falters in its attempts at covering some rather big ideas without going far enough to give them the weight they need. The main characters (all of them) exist in a dynamic where they struggle with some form of familial trauma. Based on what we observe and infer, this unaddressed trauma is what drives them to make the choices that they make. For the Chang Brothers, they have a perceived power imbalance because Robert is the one in charge of the family business, whereas William would be in charge following tradition. When we first meet them, their age difference isn’t known, but McTigue makes sure that we see Robert as pensive and soft, comfortable with his emotions and strength. Much of this is due to Li’s performance, which never strays into overplaying or melodrama. In meeting William, he’s rude to the shared assistant Melissa (Grace Serrano), brisk in temperament, and openly shares his thoughts on Robert as a loner or socially-awkward person. McTigue smartly balances the show and tell of their relationship so that there’s enough information for the audience to fill in some of the gaps around the events we witness. Strangely, though the Chang Brothers appear to be the leads of the film, the approach to the narrative implies otherwise and it ends up being a disservice to the whole.
For clarity, the opening of the film is a tightly constructed false oner where the camera follows a black bag as it’s carried into a facility to a staging area, and then a four-person team climbs into a car. As an introduction to the film, it sets up that something is about to go down and, because it’s the opening, it implies that whomever is being introduced here is likely the center of the film. Slowly, the audience comes to realize that it’s not Robert as the kidnapped or William as the tricked older brother as the real center of the film, but Chad. Unlike Robert and William, we’re only given tidbits about this character, usually through their reactions to other’s decisions or by the words of a related jabber-jawed character. One issue about this is that the negative space around Chad is wider than the ending of the film would like it to be. So, rather than Chad being a stoic man of honor pushed to thievery, the script doesn’t provide enough information for the audience to presume this based upon the film’s ending. The fact that inferences can be made about Chad’s isn’t so much an issue as the script refuses to spell things out (a choice I applaud); however, a choice by Chad later in the film would make far more sense if the audience were given more to go on than theses inferences.
Interesting as this film is, it truly needs more time in order to flesh itself out and find the balance it deserves to stick the landing it wants. Based on the synopsis, one will presume that Take the Night is a very different picture, a la director David Fincher’s The Game (1997), centered, instead, on the Chang family, or, at the very least, William’s recovery of Robert. Seeing the whole film absent the myopic lens of marketing, Take the Night is a parallel story about siblings and family, but doesn’t dig in where it should. This reduces the whole from carrying the dramatic weight it clearly seeks to evoke, especially by film’s end.
Feature-length directorial debuts provide an opportunity for an artist to present how they see the world. McTigue’s Take the Night is equal parts nihilistic “I’ll take what’s mine at the expense of others” and loving “I’ll do what I must to protect my family” wrapped in a post-military dramatic thriller shell we’ve seen in films like Den of Thieves (2018), Wrath of Man (2021), and Ambulance (2022). McTigue’s got big ideas that play well within this tightly focused tale. The potential for what he could do with a little bit more time is extraordinary.
In theaters, on VOD, and digital July 12th, 2022.
For more information, head to Saban Films’s official Take the Night webpage.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.