When it comes to problematic faves, Steve McQueen is definitely up at the top for me. If I ever met him in person, I’d probably run screaming in the other direction. But Steve McQueen as an IDEA? God damn. If it was possible to have a crush on a film, I’d have a crush on LE MANS. Not to mention BULLITT, the GETAWAY, PAPILLON, THE GREAT ESCAPE… the man was an icon of cool, a filmmaker AND a race car driver. And those blue eyes. Come on. He’s a legend.
Which is why I jumped on FINDING STEVE MCQUEEN. It’s the kind of indie movie you don’t see in theaters so much anymore: a mid-budget, character-driven heist movie that follows an underdog everyman, Harry Barber, who idolizes Steve McQueen.
It’s 1972, and a gang of close-knit thieves from Youngstown, Ohio attempt to steal $30 million in illegal contributions and blackmail money from President Richard Nixon's secret fund. Presumably, someone once told Harry that he bore a resemblance to the steely, blue-eyed race car driver, so now he’s driving around his small town, smoking cigarettes, getting speeding tickets, and planning heists.
There are some fantastic actors in this movie. Travis Fimmel turns in a great performance as Harry – not because he’s even close to portraying the steely, imperturbable, Masculinity with a capital “M” of Steve McQueen, but because his Harry is the exact opposite. He’s sweaty, nervous, a little bloated, trying to push down his obvious discomfort about everything in his life with desserts and chain smoking. He’s failing to be Steve McQueen, and once you realize that, it’s really fascinating to watch. Rachael Taylor, who many will remember as Trish aka Hellcat from Jessica Jones, gets to show off a lot more range here as Harry’s love interest, Molly. Hell, somebody talked Academy Award Winner Forest Whitaker and Lily Rabe into being in this movie.
The problem is that they’re working with a script that, honestly, could have used a few more drafts. For starters, for those of us jumping into Harry’s story cold, it’s not immediately obvious that Travis Fimmel is not actually supposed to be Steve McQueen. If the only thing you know about this movie is that the title is “Finding Steve McQueen,” you’d be forgiven for thinking that the blonde guy who is shrugging on the light windbreaker, lighting a cigarette and patting his BULLITT poster on the way out the door is supposed to be the actual Steve McQueen. It’s only about 15 minutes into the movie that you realize he’s not, and by then you’ve already mistaken a very nuanced performance (Travis Fimmel playing Harry playing Steve McQueen) for a bad one (Travis Fimmel playing Steve McQueen.) Fimmel deserves better, frankly.
Then there’s the heist itself. It’s honestly kinda boring. I’m the first to admit, it’s tough to pull off a good heist plot. But you need some stakes, some reversals, some suspense. What's here instead is a lot of jumping around in time while Harry tells his story, I assume as a Tarantino-esque flourish. The pop-culture tags which are supposed to clue us in to the time period we’re in (like Molly’s hair changing to look “more like Debbie Harry” in 1980), are kinda weak.
It's not terrible, but I feel like something is missing from this movie. Was there supposed to be more stock footage in this movie that they didn’t get? Clips from BULLITT, for example, or Nixon talking on the TV? Maybe that would have made the historical context feel more fleshed out. How about some music that feels more like a Steve McQueen movie? I mean, if you’re going to throw your hat over the wall and reference Steve McQueen in your title, you better think about the comparisons your viewers will make between your movie and a Steve McQueen movie.
It’s a good idea, but when it comes to execution, FINDING STEVE MCQUEEN is still looking.