A group of high-living young criminals bankroll their extravagant lifestyle with a series of painstakingly planned bank robberies while a dedicated police officer makes it his personal mission to stop them in the taut, edge-of your seat crime thriller Takers. After years of meticulously planned heists, the crew is convinced by one of their own to risk it all for one last big score, but pulling off the job of a lifetime with a dogged detective and a vicious rival gang on their tail is a tall order, even for these seasoned pros.
Directed by John Luessenhop (Lockdown), Takers stars Matt Dillon (Crash, There's Something About Mary), Paul Walker (The Fast and the Furious, The Death and Life of Bobby Z), Idris Elba ("The Wire," RocknRolla, Obsessed), Jay Hernandez (Lakeview Terrace, Nothing Like the Holidays), Michael Ealy (Miracle at St. Anna, Seven Pounds), Tip "T.I." Harris (American Gangster, ATL), with Chris Brown (Stomp The Yard, This Christmas), and Hayden Christensen (Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith).
The screenplay is by Peter Allen & Gabriel Casseus and John Luessenhop & Avery Duff. The producers are Will Packer (Stomp the Yard, Obsessed), Tip "T.I." Harris and Jason Geter. The executive producers are Glenn S. Gainor, Gabriel Casseus, Chris Brown and Morris Chestnut. The director of photography is Michael Barrett (You Don't Mess with the Zohan, Bobby). Production designer is Jon Gary Steele (Armored, Death at a Funeral). Editor is Armen Minasian (Armored; I, Robot). Costume designer is Maya Lieberman (Obsessed, Death at a Funeral). Original music is by Paul Haslinger (Death Race). Casting is by Lindsey Hayes Kroeger, CSA & David H. Rapaport, CSA.
Longtime friends Gordon Betts (Idris Elba), John Rahway (Paul Walker), A.J. (Hayden Christensen), and the Attica brothers, Jake (Michael Ealy) and Jesse (Chris Brown) finance an extravagant lifestyle filled with hot cars, hotter women and unlimited cash by staging high stakes bank robberies. They avoid being caught by planning to the tiniest detail, leaving no clues and pulling off one--and only one--job per year.
Their latest successful caper, a $2 million heist, attracts the attention of LAPD Detective Jack Welles (Matt Dillon), an old-school cop who has sacrificed his marriage, his child and any semblance of a personal life for the job. Despite a lack of support from the department, Welles is determined to track down the elusive gang before they strike again.
As the crew celebrates their latest daring robbery in a chic downtown cocktail lounge, Ghost (T.I.), a former comrade-in-arms recently released from prison, drops in with an irresistible proposal. The only member of the crew arrested for an earlier job, Ghost says he has a plan that will net each of them enough money to hang up their ski masks forever: the robbery of an armored car carrying over $12. But it has to happen in five days or the opportunity will evaporate.
Although doing another job right away goes against the crew's strict rules of conduct, the lure of all that money proves too great and they decide to risk a daring daylight hold-up on a crowded downtown Los Angeles street. With just a few days to prepare, the crew sets in motion an intricate scheme that unknowingly puts them on a collision course with a group of ruthless Russian mobsters.
In the meantime, Welles is unraveling a complex web of evidence that takes him from a small time arms dealer to the Russians and finally… crew leader Gordon Betts. With the clock ticking down, ancient rivalries, unexpected double-crosses, unknown enemies and just plain bad luck complicate the plan, resulting in a deadly showdown no one saw coming.
THE BEST LAID PLANS
The story of Takers begins with Gabriel Casseus, an actor who had never written a screenplay before. After a night at Hollywood's fabled Mann's Chinese Theater, Casseus was struck by an inspiration. "The idea for the movie came to me complete from beginning to end," he says. "But I didn't know how to write a script. By chance, I had read a script written by Peter Allen a couple of years earlier. I'd never met the guy, never heard of the guy before, but after I read it, I said to myself, I'm going to find this guy and I'm going to write a movie with him."
Casseus tracked down Allen in Los Angeles and proposed they collaborate on a screenplay about a high-tech, high-style crew of bank robbers. "He had some very specific ideas," recalls Allen. "Gabe wanted it to be about a multiracial crew of guys who wear sharp suits and commit designer crimes, meaning they never get caught. He described the robbery that opens the film in great detail. And I said, 'Okay, we can run with this.'"
Allen gave his partner a window into an urbane world that suited the story to a tee. "To me, Peter represents Gordon Betts, the older master thief played by Idris Elba," says Casseus. "Peter is very old school and classy, with that sophisticated Dean Martin-Frank Sinatra mindset."
Allen and Casseus crafted a complex narrative that gives equal time to both sides of the law, pitting the ingenious, charismatic crew against an equally cunning, unrelenting lawman. "You have to have worthy adversaries to keep things interesting," says Allen. "Your cops are only as good as the guys they're chasing."
As the pair fleshed out their ideas, Casseus continued working as an actor. When he won a role in director John Luessenhop's feature debut, Lockdown, he knew he had found the perfect advocate for the project. "John and I became friends and I gave him the script," says Casseus. "He responded to it and took it to Clint Culpepper at Screen Gems, who made it all happen."
With encouragement from Culpepper, Luessenhop and his partner Avery Duff polished the script. "Having someone like John Luessenhop take a pass at our script was exciting," Casseus says. "He completely understood what we envisioned. He was always thinking about how the story could be improved. He brought an amazing sense of the visual to it."
Executive producer Glenn S. Gainor consulted with Luessenhop during the development process, which took a number of years. "Getting this movie made is a dream come true for John," Gainor says. "We discussed the script for months on end. And it's a tribute to Clint Culpepper and Screen Gems that it did. It really was one of those journeys you hear about in which the script is waiting and waiting until finally, there it is."
Luessenhop and Duff reinforced the quirky characterizations that Casseus and Allen infused in the script. "Even though it's essentially cops and robbers, John and I spent a lot of time making sure that you could empathize with everybody," says Duff. "Every movie has a plot, but this one's got heart as well and that's what separates it from a lot of the other movies of this genre. Every one of these characters is complicated. Once the audience knows a little bit about who they are, they're more likely to think, gee, I hope he gets away. It allows you to go along on the ride with them.
"When we started the process, we were convinced the audience would be more engrossed if they started out rooting for one side, then found themselves rooting for the other," continues Duff. "So we began on the side of the police who are supposed to stop crime. Then it turns out that the other side is so cool, so hip, and so much fun, that we enjoy being with them. But they are on a collision course and that's really the tension of the movie."
The completed script is part high-concept crime caper, part character study and non-stop action. "The script is fun because it's so full," says Luessenhop. "It is an action picture but, at the same time, there's a great deal of emotion. All good pictures, whatever the genre, should be able to tie into the humanity of the characters."
That forced Luessenhop to divide his time between working with actors in dramatic settings and creating the more visceral spectacle of the film, a combination of tasks he relished. "It's packed with intimate personal stories mixed with tremendous action, set against the huge canvas of Los Angeles," says the director. "I loved dealing both with the people, and these tremendous stunts and great camera work. It's thrilling when it happens in front of you, and you can say, 'Yes, we got that!' And I got just as excited when someone like Matt Dillon hit a home run in a scene. I wanted to just jump up and hug him at the end of it."
As a writer, Luessenhop made sure to give each of his leading actors a moment worth cheering for. "Every character has a heightened moment in the film, where they achieve something or resolve something. That's one of the things I'm most proud about the story and I think that's what attracted a lot of our actors."
Filling the dual roles of writer and director gave Luessenhop a distinct advantage with the cast, says producer Will Packer. "John was able to truly articulate who these characters are," says the producer. "He has a great way with actors. On a show like this, we had a lot of testosterone--eight main male actors. So it was good to have somebody like John, who has a very calming spirit. He's even-tempered and very clear about what he wants. He talks to everybody with respect and I think they respect him because of that. And he's an extremely hard worker--the first one on set every day, the last one to leave."
Luessenhop credits Packer with giving him both the freedom and the support he needed to make the film he envisioned. "Will Packer added so much to this movie," says Luessenhop. "I don't believe we ever would have achieved the cast we have without him. I was in charge of directing, and I made my own decisions, but he was always available to bounce ideas off or suggest improvements. He was always there in the trenches, trying to make the hottest movie possible."
Packer has a long history with Screen Gems, serving as producer for films including Stomp the Yard, Obsessed and This Christmas for the studio. But he says Takers represented a new opportunity. "As a producer, this is my first full-blown action movie. We had a lot of set pieces that had to be carefully prepared for and thought out and designed. I enjoyed overseeing a project of this size and scope for the first time.
"The audience is going to fall in love with our crew," says Packer. "And I think they'll take this journey with them. Through triumph and failure and love gained and lost, we're with them every step of the way as they're trying to pull of this one last impossible job."
Luessenhop hopes audiences will walk away with an experience that transcends genre. "The thing I would be most proud of is for people to see more than karate or cars or explosions," he says. "I hope it has some emotional resonance after the visceral component fades away."
A PERFECT CREW
To create Takers' cast of cops and robbers, the filmmakers filled their eight leading man roles with some of the hottest talent in movies, television and music. Idris Elba, T.I., Hayden Christensen, Paul Walker, Chris Brown and Michael Ealy play the suave outlaws, with Matt Dillon and Jay Hernandez representing the long arm of the law. "To have the level of cast we have in this film is really exciting," says Packer. "With that kind of a cast, what can you be but cool? These guys bring it. They have so much swagger. They ooze self-confidence and it all comes across on screen. Read more
PULLING IT OFF: COSTUMES, CARS, LOCATION AND EXPLOSIONS
Every movie is partly script, partly actors and partly locations, according to executive producer Glenn S. Gainor, whose dozens of producing credits include Death at a Funeral, Vacancy and Happy, Texas. "In this particular case, it was a phenomenal blend--a gifted cast, a very fine script and fantastic locations. You can't beat Los Angeles, and the downtown settings we used aren't the usual version of the city you see in films." The film was originally set in New York City, but after 9/11, the filmmakers focused their sights on the West Coast. "When I first got the script, it said, 'Fade in: San Francisco,'" says Gainor. "We planned to incorporate all the city's iconic images. But San Francisco had its challenges." A Far East incarnation was considered as well. "I had a Hong Kong version, with an international cast," says Luessenhop. "Now it's hard for me to imagine the film being set anywhere but Los Angeles. We chose to use a very glamorous side of L.A., but the picture is still grounded in the streets to take in the iconic landmarks, like the Hollywood sign, Dodger Stadium and the Hollywood Hills." Read more
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
JOHN LUESSENHOP (Director and Writer) made his directorial debut in the world of feature films with Lockdown, an independently produced urban prison drama acquired and distributed by Columbia Home Entertainment. The film struck a strong chord with urban audiences, opening the UrbanWorld Film Festival in New York City and closing the Hollywood Black Film Festival in Los Angeles. It also premiered internationally at the Toronto Film Festival.
A native of McLean, Virginia, and an alumnus of the University of Virginia and Georgetown Law School, Luessenhop began his film career writing and directing the hard-edged 33-minute featurette Tick…Tick…Tick…, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to win Best Short Film at Universal's Florida Film Festival.
Because of his gritty style, Luessenhop has directed more than 20 episodes for "America's Most Wanted," including two national cop-of-the-year stories.
Prior to making the leap to writing and directing, Luessenhop was a successful Wall Street attorney.
PETER ALLEN (Writer) began his career directing music videos, beginning with Stevie Wonder's "Ribbon in the Sky." From that initial effort, Allen went on to direct breakthrough videos for some very prominent talent. Zhane, Klymaxx, Rick James, Baby Face, Miki Howard, The Whispers, Shalamar and Chubb Rock are but a few of the artists he has directed in his 100+ music videos.
Allen's filmmaking talent was refined at Maryland Institute College of Art, where he graduated with a B.F.A. in film production and photography. He worked his way through college as a freelance photographer in the Baltimore and Washington areas. This period of freelancing led to a stint as a staff photojournalist for the Kansas City Star, the largest daily newspaper in the surrounding five Midwestern states. Taking photographs on a daily basis further sharpened Allen's creative eye.
Upon moving to California, Allen became the creative director of an animation production company, New Genesis Productions. Working in the medium of hand-drawn commercial animation, he learned the business of filmmaking "one frame at a time." The company produced commercials, animated effects and special concert films for PBS' "Carl Sagan's Cosmos," Levi's Jeans, Parliament-Funkadelic, The Gap Band and Motown Records. From this launching point, Allen made the logical creative jump into directing and producing music videos.
A co-written feature film, KLA$H, was released in 1996. Allen also wrote the martial arts adventure The Book of Swords. Since 1999, he has been writing original screenplays, script doctoring and ghost writing on a fulltime basis.
AVERY DUFF (Writer) is a Southerner born and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee. After attending Baylor School in his hometown and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duff earned a Juris Doctor degree from Georgetown University School of Law. He practiced corporate law in Chattanooga, where he became the youngest person to make partner in his law firm's 100+ year history.
A lifelong film fan inspired by classic films such as All About Eve, Laura and Double Indemnity, Duff visited the Ashram in Calabasas, California on a dare. There, it dawned on him while enduring the Ashram's popular starvation plan that he was more interested in plot, dialogue and movies than antitrust law, mergers and acquisitions. When he returned home, he promptly quit his practice and moved to Los Angeles.
Duff remembers that as a boy in Tennessee, every summer his family would pile into the station wagon and drive two days to reach the beaches of South Carolina, where they would stay in a rambling beach house for ten days. When it came time to make the endless journey back to the mountains of eastern Tennessee, he would always hide in the dunes until he was discovered by his parents and forced back into the station wagon. Duff always wondered on the drive back home, as the beach and the saltwater and the boardwalk were still fresh in his mind, "What kind of people get to live at the beach all year round?" Now he knows who--writers. Duff currently lives in the Venice Beach area, where he is finishing his first novel, Rider. After many near misses with the studios, including writing the first draft for a feature film version of Hawaii Five-0, Takers is Duff's first produced feature.
GABRIEL CASSEUS (Writer and Executive Producer) began his career with an open casting call for Nick Gomez's indie New Jersey Drive. Spike Lee immediately took notice of Casseus' Independent Spirit Award nominated performance and cast him in his next film, Get on the Bus. Playing Denzel Washington's mentally challenged brother in the supernatural thriller Fallen came next for the actor. A conversation with the Oscar®-winner Washington was all it took to convince Casseus that he should add writing and directing to his creative arsenal.
Casseus continued popping up in several major studio movies, including the Jerry Bruckheimer production of Ridley Scott's military drama Blackhawk Down, Bedazzled, with Brendan Fraser, and G-Force. Television also called on Casseus in the form of recurring roles and guest performances on top ten shows such as "Grey's Anatomy," "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "24" and "The Practice."
THE ART OF ORIGINAL FILMMAKING