ABOUT THE CRIME AND CRIMINALS
So, how and why does a disparate group of otherwise law-abiding citizens get pulled into an ongoing criminal conspiracy involving the theft of millions of dollars? Perhaps, as the actors and filmmakers suggest, the answer lies in a little need and a little greed.
"The nature of the crime lends itself to being understandable because they're going to destroy the money anyway, right?" said Holmes. "To me, that made the crime more believable, that these three women, who live semi-normal lives, could make that decision to veer off in this direction. Each of these women really need the money. They have such different backgrounds, so the necessity level is very different for each of them, but the necessity is there."
Khouri agrees that circumstance and opportunity make the crime all the more understandable. "These are very distinct characters, who have very specific needs and desires. Through each other they find a way to have each of their dreams fulfilled a little bit."
Keaton's character, Bridget, and her husband, Don, represent the American Dream slipping away after a lifetime of work to achieve it. Following a corporate layoff, Don has been looking for another job for nearly two years, but cannot find one. The once affluent couple are now broke. "He's thoroughly depressed and scared and he puts their house on the market without telling his wife," Danson said. "Don's a little dramatic and easily panicked. What he does in life is manage people, and now there are no people for him to manage. He doesn't know what to do and is afraid to tell his wife."
When Bridget finds out their house is up for sale, she decides she will do whatever it takes to prevent that happening. "It's the worst job any upper middle class white woman could ever imagine, having to clean toilets and empty wastebaskets for a living, but she's determined to do it," said Cohen. "She refuses to sell her home."
Bridget finds her job as a cleaning woman gives her a perspective others in the Fed do not have. As a nearly invisible daily presence, Bridget can observe and snoop, taking note of the security cameras, the cash carts, the guards, security details and routines. As 'just a housewife' and a janitor, Bridget is unnoticed and undervalued, and figures out how to use that to her advantage.
"Bridget has been underestimated her whole life," said Acheson. "But she's a very intelligent woman who comes up with something that no one else ever came up with before. She even says, 'Something can't be done until it's done the first time.' And she comes up with a way to do it."
Not only does Bridget figure out a simple way to penetrate the Fed's complex security, but her instincts about human nature serve to further her scheme as well. "Bridget has figured out exactly how to play Glover, the security chief at the Fed," said Cohen. "She thinks beyond the crime itself and realizes that in this universe, if she gets caught, Glover will never take the fall. He will lie, no matter what, to cover up a theft because his job means everything to him. She knows his entire identity is tied up with his job."
"Glover is supremely confident that nothing can go wrong in his institution," said Root, who plays Glover. "He believes he's in control. He's an old school guy with a delusional mindset, even when an overwhelming amount of evidence shows something has gone wrong. There is no way Glover is going to admit they have been able to do this in his bank."
Bridget's inspired plan came to her as she strolled the aisles of her local Home Depot store and found herself staring at a wall of padlocks. The key to getting the money, she realized in that moment of conspicuous consumption, was right in front of her.
Rothenberg observes, "These women are scrubbing toilets, getting sexually harrassed, working for peanuts and they get a little smart. And smart is usually what people who make a million dollars are .... using their intelligence, they just looked at something from a slightly different angle and all of a sudden the impossible is possible. After looking at something with new eyes they're millionnaires."
With her plan, Bridget seeks out accomplices with security clearances, who can access parts of the building that she cannot. She takes her time and watches her co-workers to see who would be the most likely to need the money and participate.
"What they have in common is that they all have a reason to make it happen," said Latifah. "I think it's a matter of necessity which makes them join together; they're not women who would normally hang out together."
Latifah's character, Nina, has the most basic needs, a real sense of the day-to-day reality of what it is like to live without enough money and be raising children as a single parent. "For sure, Nina has some basic things she needs to happen in her life," said Latifah. "She needs to put her sons in a better position so they don't get caught up in the traps of growing up in the 'hood, which is where they live. Being a caring parent is the source of her desperation. Once she doesn't need to worry about that anymore, you get to see her flourish."
Bridget follows and watches Nina and uses Nina's desire to improve her sons' lives as an enticement for her to participate. Bridget's emotional appeal seals the deal for the devoted mother, who then must come to terms with committing a crime, while trying to raise two boys not to be criminals. "It's ironic that Nina wants a better life for her boys, yet winds up committing a crime in order to do it," admits Latifah. "But I think that's something people will be able to relate to in real life. How many times have you stood in a bank and wondered, 'Could I rob this bank?' I think everybody has thought that at least once. Many of us don't do it for various reasons, but then there are those who cross the line. Is it because they want the money for some kind of thrill? Is it because they were desperate and felt as if it were their only way out? Crimes are often committed out of desperation. While people rationalize their criminal actions, it's not out of the realm of reality."
Together, Bridget and Nina recruit a third person, Jackie Truman, who moves the cash carts from floor to floor. While seemingly content in her simple routine, Jackie's hunger to live life to the fullest makes her an eager participant. Unlike Bridget who wants to save her home and middle class lifestyle, or Nina who wants to move out of the inner city and put her sons in a better school, Jackie's reasons for joining the scheme do not lie in material needs.
"Jackie is one of those people who is happy-go-lucky, very sweet and up for anything," adds Holmes. "She likes the adventure of it, the game of it. She likes the fact that these women seem to truly care about her. She's willing to go along with their plans -- as long as they don't fight."
Together, the three women move through the Federal Reserve bank, doing their respective monotonous, mind-numbing, minimum-wage jobs, pushing cash carts and janitorial carts, shredding money and cleaning wastebaskets, unnoticed, anonymous. "No one pays attention to them," co-star Cross explains. "They can go in and out of so many different areas without being noticed, no one even giving them a second thought. That's what's so brilliant about it."
The three women characters complement one another, not just in terms of access and responsibilities, but in terms of strengths and weaknesses within their respective personalities. "They have different strengths that added together make the perfect criminal mastermind," said Khouri. "Diane's character is the brains, Queen Latifah's character is the heart and Katie's the spirit. They don't know they need each other. That's what's fun and interesting to explore."
WHEN CRIME PAYS WELL
The story also explores how money affects these women and changes them and their relationships. For Holmes, the happiness this money brings is beyond its purchasing power. "It's a great game. Who doesn't love a game?" said Holmes. "Who doesn't love to try something they've never done before and pull it off? It awakens the spirit in each of these women and their husbands are excited by this. It becomes a whole adventure, which gets the adrenaline going." Latifah says her character's entire life changes as money pressures disappear. "Nina comes out of her shell and has a personal life, gets to be a woman and enjoy the company of a good man. "Money helped that happen. It helped Nina flourish. Money doesn't sustain all that once you get going. You still have to do what you have to do, but it helped it happen."
Nina shows caution in how she spends the money, buying a modest house in a better neighborhood, even though she could have paid cash for a mansion. She also achieves her goal of placing her two sons in a better school and eliminating her bills. As a working mom, Nina is usually the last one on the list for anything but necessities, so the money offered her an opportunity to treat herself a little.
"Queen Latifah wanted the transition in terms of how Nina presented herself to be subtle, but clear," said Costume Designer Susie DeSanto. "Over the years, she moves from prints to a more tailored look, has some nice handbags, and a little jewelry, but nothing extravagant. She's also falling in love during this time, so we used more romantic necklines, softer fabrics and colors. She's not coming from a place of desperation and defensiveness, she's got more money and relaxes. She's brighter and happier without the pressures."
In this newfound life, Nina also discovers love with Barry, the security guard, who discovers what Nina and her accomplices have been doing. "Roger Cross as Barry is a strong, solid, honest and hard-working guy, who ultimately becomes Nina's boyfriend and husband," adds Acheson. "He takes care of his mother, works hard and is a solid character who finds himself in a situation where he loves this woman and finds himself attracted by the money. I can't emphasize enough that when you're around that much money - and I've experienced it personally - it has a powerful effect on you."
For Barry, the stolen money represents more than what it can buy. "They believe in themselves now," said Cross. "They believe they can do anything. They've been broke and they've been rich and like many successful people say, it's not how many times you get knocked down or wiped out, it's how many times you get back up, get back in and succeed."
The money allows Bridget and Don to save their house. At the beginning of the film, with money running out, the house is a little run down. After the couple start making money, they resist going out and buying new cars or other luxury items that might draw attention, and instead spend large amounts of cash on fixing up their home. Bridget had always wanted a new master bedroom with a walk-in closet and bigger bathroom and she gets that. She also indulges her fashion tastes and buys new clothes and furnishings. She buys clothes for her 'corporate consultant' husband Don. They have security and whatever they need without worry. The couple's American Dream has been restored.
Although he enjoys the money and energized wife, Don's reaction to the influx of cash is a mixture of paranoia, panic and anxiety. Although helping his wife, and clearly benefiting from the crime, the money hardly buys Don his idea of happiness. He's bored and restless playing at his fake job in corporate consulting. He's relieved and surprised when his friends and neighbors see how well he is apparently doing as a consultant, and offer him a real job.
"All Don wants to do when he gets the money is to go back to work. He can't wait to go back to work," said Danson. "He wants to sit behind a desk and work. Now that the money makes it seem he's become fabulously successful,
people want to hire him. The problem now is, it will be a pay cut. They'll have to fake living on less money again."
When Don suggests this job will pay well enough for her to quit her job, Bridget replies, "I don't know, Don. I hate cleaning toilets, but the money's so good."
For Jackie and Bob, their needs are simple, more spiritual than materialistic. "It's empowering for them," Rothenberg said. "I don't think it had to be money, it just happened to be money, but it's taking this seemingly impossible task and discovering how to do it. It's a matter of looking at something with new eyes and it opens up a world of possibilities for them."
The couple isn't trying to change their lives, and they don't need or want that much. As both Rothenberg and Holmes agree, the couple's simple life and desires translate into a rather unusual way of spending their cash. "They have a lot of enthusiasm, but not a lot of taste," said Rothenberg. "They go from a dirty little trailer to a bigger, newer trailer which moves, which is the greatest thing in the world to them. One of Bob's biggest purchases is a huge V8 motorcycle and the other is a new guitar."
"These people are really in love and they have unique tastes," Holmes adds. "What I really like about them is that they're happy just being together. They're not fancy, but they are cool."
DeSanto says Jackie and Bob's new-found wealth does not greatly impact the way they dress. "Jackie changes a little. She starts out wearing thrift-store clothes and towards the end, she comes into her own with motorcycle boots, sexy black pants," she explains. "It's her wildness being expressed. She's got more confidence and style and is not such a dingbat, anymore."
DeSanto explains Bob's style sense it this way, "You know the type of people who are super rich and dress as if they have no money? Those people who still look as if they're wearing dirty old clothes, even though they're rich and could afford any types of clothes. That's how we see Bob. He and Jackie are happy to buy a big huge motor home and they think it's all about freedom, seeing the world."
As Bridget and Don, Jackie and Bob, and Nina and Barry discover the intoxicating mix of freedom and security that comes with the stolen money, it becomes more and more difficult to stop stealing it. Despite the happiness and changes the cash has brought, the three women (and their mates) are anything but free or secure. Aside from satisfying very real needs for cash, the act of conspiring and stealing successfully becomes its own addiction.
Rothenberg offers up his perspective on why it's hard to stop. "As human beings, I believe we have an inherent pleasure in screwing the system, especially when it comes to money, which is something no one ever feels they really have enough of. It kind of begs the questions about can money buy happiness? How much of these pieces of paper will ever be enough? I don't know how many millions they stole, but when you think of someone who actually makes a million dollars, I don't think it's possible to work hard enough ever to truly earn a million dollars. Generally, people who earn millions of dollars tend to not work as hard as people that make little to nothing. Money's interesting and it's weird."
READ MORE ABOUT THE PRODUCTION AND TIME AND MONEY, CHANGES THROUGH THE YEARS