Wasteland overcomplicates the story with all of its gimmicky deceptions, leaving you feeling like the one being robbed.
Rowan Athale attempts to breathe some new life into the heist genre by peppering it with dry British humor, stylized visuals, pulsing soundtrack, and characters with realistic motivations, but Wasteland overcomplicates the story with all of its gimmicky deceptions, leaving you feeling like the one being robbed. The film demands way too much faith from its audience to believe in all of the events that conveniently fall into place during the elaborate heist. Wasteland may have tried too hard to alter the genre formula instead of improving upon it.
The situation does not look promising for Harvey Miller (Luke Treadaway), a man who has only been out of prison for a few weeks but now finds himself back in a police interrogation room. His face looks as if he just stepped out of a boxing match with a heavy-weight champ, but detective Inspector West (Timothy Spall) suggests that the other man in the fight got the worse end of the deal. Harvey indicates that it may take the entire night to explain the whole story, the detective settles in—as does the audience. Harvey remains remarkably calm and even as he begins to recall the elaborate crime, a smug look on his face never leaves.
Through the use of flashbacks it is revealed that Harvey was framed for the prison time he just served by a local drug kingpin named Steven Roper (Neil Maskell) after stealing his girlfriend (Vanessa Kirby). While doing the time for a crime he did not commit, Harvey came up with a plan to get revenge on Roper as soon as he was released from prison. Now with the help of his friends Harvey carefully blueprints the heist that involves stealing ₤60,000 from the club that Roper owns. Harvey details all the intricate steps of the heist down to the smallest of details. After explaining how to always be one-step ahead of everyone he claims that the execution of the heist went wrong, which is why he is currently across the table from the detective—an ending to a story that is so implausible that it fools nobody.
Wasteland ends up going from fairly convincing to absolutely preposterous in its final 30 minutes, where the anticipated twists and turns continue until your eyes are sore from rolling. Because most bank heist thrillers nowadays throw in a few gotchas along the way, you come into the film expecting some purposely left out details. But what makes for a successful plot twist film such as The Usual Suspects, an obvious influence, is that the twist is within reach and right under your nose the entire time. The plot twists in Wasteland are so far-fetched that it is impossible to even guess at them—taking away all of the fun.
You certainly cannot discredit the effort that Athale puts into Wasteland, particularly with the film’s visual flair and complicated storyline. Granted, the script is over-written and the attempt to get you to empathize with its characters is a failure. But at least the film comes out swinging for the fences, even if the result is merely a base hit. Athale shows his ability as a director in this debut, but perhaps different source material would generate better results.