It begins in the middle, with an event. The camera tracks a holdall being carried by one man to three others in a warehouse. They all don balaclavas and gloves, and walk, with the holdall, to a car. These men mean business, their determination and economy of movement underscored by Jonas Wikstrand’s propulsive soundtrack. Not long afterwards, they drive into the basement garage of Chang Imports’ office building, and violently abduct its young CEO Robert Chang (Sam Song Li). Though central to Take The Night, this abduction has its antecedents and its consequences, and the rest of writer/director Seth McTigue’s feature debut will unravel both before and after this event, with a far greater interest in the conflict of character and class than in the mere mechanics of crime.
It will turn out that older brother William Chang (Roy Huang) has arranged the seizure of Robert as part of a surprise 25th birthday party for him. This rash act is entirely in keeping with William’s character. For where Robert is hard-working and serious, William is feckless, irresponsible and something of a playboy – and there is also a hint of vindictiveness to William’s actions, as he works through his resentments and fraternal jealousy at having been passed over in the will of their father (Kelvin Han Lee). After all, daddy left the running of the family business to the younger, more reliable Robert whom he had always favoured. “You don’t have to be gentle with him,” William tells Chad (played by McTigue), the man hired to carry out the abduction and to deliver a bewlildered, bundled Robert to his own party (where the guests are all work colleagues whom William has had to pay to attend).
Literally scarred and suffering from PTSD, war veteran Chad is deadly earnest about the costs of violence, wants out of crime, and constantly has to keep in line his own more feckless, more clownish brother Todd (Brennan Keel Cook). These two and their fellow crew members Shannon (Shomari Love) and Justin (Antonio Aaron) decide to take advantage of the cash-in-hand job to rob the safes at the Changs’ home and office, even as they exhibit mysterious knowledge of where these are and how to access them, with the source of that knowledge only gradually becoming apparent. Things of course go wrong, but this is less Fargo-esque kidnapping farce than an elliptical examination of fraternal and social frictions.
Here both sets of brothers are struggling to forge their own paths while living in the respective shadows of their late fathers, and McTigue carefully uses cross-cutting to draw comparisons and contrasts between these fraternal pairs. In one scene, Robert and William eat a luxurious breakfast served to them by a maid, while Chad and Todd make do with a reduced number of eggs that Todd has scrambled after their literally starving friend Shannon raided their fridge the night before. This class difference plays out in other ways. The Chang brothers are heirs to an immense family fortune, and while William may be jealous that his younger brother became CEO instead of him, he is still living in the lap of luxury, and his flashy sports car easily catches up with the getaway vehicle that Justin has stolen from the street. While the gold and bitcoins that the criminal gang steal from the Changs is more than enough to transform forever the lives of all four, or indeed of Robert’s assistant secretary Melissa (Grace Serrano), for Robert it is disposable chump change, while the items he wishes to recover – a watch and an unread letter from his father – have value that is purely sentimental.
So this is a confrontation not just of brother(s) with brother(s), but of the haves with the have-nots, where both cash and emotional baggage will end up being partially redistributed, but where, as always, the rich emerge largely unscathed by events while the poor come out with far deeper scars. For the varied contents of that holdall, and the legacies of different families, can be equally bountiful and ruinous, but are not equally divided – and in a patriarchal America, the pride of daddy and nation is harder won for some than for others.
strap: Seth McTigue’s feature debut starts with the violent abduction of a CEO, before exploring clashes of brotherhood and class
© Anton Bitel