The Bandit, also known as Joint Body, feels contemporary even though it was released in 2011. It tells the story of Nick Burke (Mark Pellegrino) who’s been incarcerated for seven years for a string of felonies.
The movie is billed as a crime/thriller, but it’s also a touching drama about isolation. Nick’s loneliness is incredibly relatable in the current era of social distancing, and Mark Pellegrino is the perfect choice to make an audience care about an ambiguous character like Nick.
Warning: this page contains spoilers.
At the start of the movie, Nick is doing pushups in his prison cell. Don’t let Nick’s muscles distract you from the pictures on his cell wall — the photos of his ex-wife and daughter, and his father’s obituary, give us an insight into the importance Nick puts on family and belonging.
We learn Nick is up for parole through a visit from his ex-wife Jane (Bellamy Young). Nick’s pain is almost tangible when Jane makes it clear he isn’t welcome in her life. She has a restraining order, and Nick has to stay away from their daughter. “Please don’t take my daughter from me,” he implores, grasping hopelessly for any remnants of whatever they once shared.
Nick’s freedom is at the expense of signing custody of his daughter over to his ex-wife. Either way, Nick’s daughter is out of reach, and his pain at being forced to make an impossible choice is plain to see.
The parole hearing is brief, but it sets the tone of the movie. The Bandit is about a man leaving prison after seven years, but his story is one of isolation, fragile relationships, hesitant trust and loss.
Once he’s free, Nick’s isolation is even more profound. His ex-wife rejected him, he’s not allowed to see his daughter, his father died, he doesn’t talk much with his brother, and his buddies are still incarcerated. Nick has to make it on his own.
The rest of the story unfolds over seven days.
The rundown streets evoke a feeling of gloomy mediocrity. As he walks toward his new home, Nick’s prospects look about as good as the town. It’s pretty bleak.
Free for the first time in seven years, Nick seems like a passenger in his own life.
Mark Pellegrino really makes us feel Nick’s loneliness. He even looks alone in a room full of people.
Nick’s room at the halfway house is uninteresting and mundane. There’s no joy at being free, just a melancholy emptiness and a sense of “what now?”
What has changed? Nick is still living in an impersonal room with a photo of his daughter for company.
As he did in prison, Nick starts his day with pushups.
Nick starts to improve his situation. He looks for work, meets with his younger brother, Dean (Ryan O’Nan), and gets some cash ($4k) that appears to be an inheritance.
It’s a tense reunion. The brothers lead very different lives — Dean has recently graduated from the Police Academy.
Dean isn’t impressed with Nick’s living conditions, “you should be with us. This place fucking sucks.” Then, in a misguided act of kindness, he gives Nick a gun to protect himself. Nick knows this is a bad idea, “I can get a year just for looking at that thing,” but watches passively as Dean leaves it on his bedside table.
Nick is trying to do the right thing. He’s contrite and agreeable, and his willingness to work lands him a job.
For the first time, Nick regains a bit of control in his life.
A moment of normality as Nick clocks out at the end of his first working day.
Back at the halfway house, Nick sees Michelle (Alicia Witt), a woman he met on his first day when one of their neighbours was being taken out by medics.
“I’ve been here three months, and two people have died already.”
Asking after the neighbour (make that three) gives Nick an excuse to talk to Michelle, and he hesitantly asks her out for coffee.
Nick heads back to get ready for his date.
This is where things take a bad turn. Danny (Tom Guiry), Michelle’s ex, forces his way into her room and rapes her. Nick hears the commotion and goes to investigate — armed with the gun his brother left.
Apart from a brief but understandable flash of frustration towards his ex-wife, this is the first time Nick looks dangerous. And — echoing an earlier conversation with his ex-wife — he’s putting himself at risk to protect a woman.
We don’t see who shot first, but both men are down.
Mark Pellegrino — no stranger to playing bad guys — has talked in interviews about looking for the human element in the characters he plays. It’s plain to see Mark found something he could get behind in Nick’s character, as he’s made Nick likeable without losing the authenticity of his troubled past.
Nick wakes up, groggily, in a hospital bed. His parole officer, sounding disappointed, tells Nick he’ll be looking at ten years — if he cooperates.
The doctor who operated on Nick says he’ll be in pain, “I’m not going to lie. It’s going to hurt when you take a piss,” but Nick is more interested in Michelle … and his lunch?
Michelle, beaten and bruised, visits Nick. “I have very bad luck with women,” he tells her. No kidding! At the start of the movie, Nick told his ex-wife, “you’re half the reason I’m in here” and “I pulled you out of the gutter.” This seems to be a theme in Nick’s life.
Seeing no other options, Nick asks Michelle to retrieve his money and get him some clothes.
“You’re not going to rip me off after I saved your life, are you?”
“You didn’t save my life.”
Michelle has as many issues as Nick. It’s hard to tell if they’re well-matched or a disaster waiting to happen.
A homicide detective finds Michelle in Nick’s room and takes her in for questioning. After her interview, she returns to the hospital with Nick’s clothes and money. They leave together, Nick glancing back tensely as he leans on the wall for support.
Nick and Michelle finally get that coffee. Nick talks about his daughter, and Michelle opens up a little about her own family.
The tentative chemistry Mark Pellegrino and Alicia Witt bring to their characters in this scene fits beautifully with what we know of their histories. Nick and Michelle seem drawn to each other, but they are circling warily. With a complex mix of need and trust issues, neither is ready to let their guard down.
At the hotel, Nick uses humour to mask his feelings and tells Michelle he was in prison for seven years because he ‘was a very confused person.’
“How ya feel?”
“Like I got shot.”
“I mean, how do you really feel?”
“Hopefully nothing soon.”
Nick’s trust issues resurface when Michelle goes out for coffee before he wakes up. He thought she might have ripped him off. She hasn’t, but just as he’s starting to think he can trust her, she lets him down.
“Where the fuck is my gun?”
As the homicide detective looks for Nick in an empty hospital room, Nick and Michelle drop in unannounced on Nick’s brother. Crossing state lines violates Nick’s parole — he’s chosen his path.
Michelle, an exotic dancer, also leads a lonely existence because she’s reluctant to depend on other people.
Outside in the truck Dean kept for Nick, the brothers exchange a few difficult truths. Mark Pellegrino and Ryan O’Nan excel in this poignant scene that conveys so much more than the words they say.
Dean tells Nick that if he’s going to disappear, he should do it — Nick knows he’s running out of time.
“For the first time in my life, I’m actually afraid of something.”
Dean’s rejection hits Nick hard.
Nick and Michelle are growing a little more comfortable around each other. Michelle still refuses to give Nick credit for saving her life, but they have a sweet moment about it after stopping for gas.
Meanwhile, the homicide officer visits Dean. The detective is closing in on Nick, and the pace is picking up.
Nick calls Dean and learns Michelle gave his gun to the police. Nick’s fragile trust in Michelle is broken again, and he’s frosty towards her when she returns.
Later, Nick wryly tells Michelle that she has bad taste in men. The setting and colours in this scene bring new energy — it feels like a turning point. Nick glowers, then walks out while Michelle is singing karaoke.
Michelle follows Nick out of the bar, and they have it out back at the hotel.
“At least I’m not a rat!”
“You want to know what my crime was? I always took the easy way out. That was my crime.”
Their discussion brings Nick’s trust issues and bad luck with women to some kind of resolution as he and Michelle reconcile.
This is where Nick and Michelle’s fortunes diverge. Michelle heads back to the hotel, where officers are waiting to arrest her, while Nick goes looking for his daughter, his freedom intact.
I love this shot: Nick is watching discreetly for his daughter while we spy on him through his mirror.
Nick visits his daughter’s school and hears about her accomplishments from a teacher who found him wandering the corridors.
Nick is outside when the bell rings, but he doesn’t approach his daughter.
The emotion on Nick’s face as he watches his daughter get on the school bus is incredibly moving — she doesn’t know he’s there and he’s saying goodbye.
Seven years ago, Nick went to jail, and some of the time he served was for crimes committed by his wife. This time the woman whose life he saved is in a cell, and he’s free.
Nick heads to the lake — presumably where his father died — and stares wistfully into the distance.
Nick always took the easy way out.
The Bandit (under its original title Joint Body) featured in several international film festivals, winning Best Picture at the Midwest Film Festival; Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actor (Mark Pellegrino) at the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase; and Best Narrative Feature at the St. Louis International Film Festival.
Bellamy Young also plays Mark Pellegrino’s character’s dead wife in Supernatural.
The movie is well worth watching! If it’s not available on your usual streaming service, you can buy or rent it on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/jointbody/38062414
Playlist of clips: The Bandit.