We are approaching the 42nd anniversary of the March 1972 burglary of the United California Bank (UCB) in Laguna Niguel that is the subject of the documentary Superthief: Inside America's Biggest Bank Score, which is available now via iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and video on demand. Director Tommy Reid, who is the brother of actress Tara Reid and is interviewed on the Weekly's Film page, agrees his push to spin Superthief into a feature film could be helped by another recent Hollywood flick.
After all, Superthief is a caper tale based on true events that happened in the 1970s. You can say the same about David O. Russell's American Hustle. I pointed this out to Reid and noted that Hollywood has a thing making movies that share similarities with recent movies proven to be critical and/or commercial successes.
"That's true about Hollywood," Reid agrees, "but I've been trying to get this movie developed without that and without knowing American Hustle came out and got nominations. I just go after stories I'm passionate about, stories I'm really excited to expose so audiences can make their own judgment about whether this is a bad man."
The possibly bad man in this case is the main subject of Reid's documentary, Phil Christopher, who was part of the Ohio-based crew that stung the UCB for an estimated $30 million, was later arrested for it and did a long prison stretch. On paper audiences might not cheer for such a character, but Christopher comes off pleasant enough in Superthief, with even his pursuers in law enforcement pointing out what a truly nice guy he is.
"There is more content now where you are rooting for the bad guy, like in Breaking Bad. It's just hot right now," Reid says.
And, whether or not American Hustle existed, the director concedes there is nostalgia for the 1970s, which was, after all, a golden age for American cinema.
"What I like about it being set in the '70s is nothing has changed," Reid says. "The California coastline has modernized in some places, but if you go to Cleveland, nothing changed."
The Monarch Bay Plaza where the bank sat, including the UCB branch building itself, was eventually demolished, but a condo, church and streets that figure into the plot are still there, notes Reid, who wants parts of his planned feature shot in the Laguna Niguel area.
He hopes both the documentary and feature educate Orange Countians about a crime they likely never heard about.
"March 24 is the 42nd anniversary of the burglary," he points out. "Why not expose this? It is part of our history. The biggest bank burglary–not robbery–in history is a story that needs to be told. That no one did a feature film is remarkable when you consider the themes. And we have the actors who can dramatize that."
Reid mentions his previous documentary that is also based on Cleveland-area criminals, Danny Greene: The Rise and Fall of the Irishman, proved to be a valuable tool for actors in the feature film he produced out of it, Kill the Irishman.
"It helped the actor [Ray Stevenson, who played Danny Greene], who said, 'My God, look in his eyes, so much is going on there.' The next step is for them to meet, sit down and let them morph into each other. That is what good acting is all about.
"There are so many crappy scripts. This is much more than just taking down criminals. It's what's the story behind the story, because Phil Christopher is a very unique individual. He went this way at a very young age. Since he had rheumatic fever from 8 to 14 years old, he could play no sports. So his eyes went toward vanity and a materialistic love of money. He was on a different path than other kids. Money can change a person's attitude forever."
Indeed. Get ready for your closeup, Orange County.