During their lengthy crime spree, the press cutely labeled the group the Bling Ring, and after their capture, Nancy Jo Sales wrote a controversial and searing exposé on the bunch for Vanity Fair, which serves as the basis for the film.
The film follows Rebecca (the cold and calculating Katie Chang) as she slowly assembles a group of friends to help her rob celebrities’ homes. The impressionable Marc (confident newcomer Israel Broussard) is first to fall victim to Rebecca’s charm, with L.A. wannabe “it” girls Nicki (Emma Watson), Chloe (a spirited Claire Julien, daughter of famed cinematographer Wally Pfister), and Sam (American Horror Story’s remarkable Taissa Farmiga) soon falling in.
Quick note of clarification: although Emma Watson’s part in this film has been highly publicized, her role as the materialistic Nicki is part of a great ensemble. In terms of screentime, Watson probably ranks fourth in line from the rest of the cast, which is more than enough time for her to redefine her talent as an actress. Watching Watson sit on a bed and casually freebase Oxycontin is something I never thought I’d see. But there’s a confidence to her work as Nicki, a notion of smoothly evolving her career, that I found immensely appealing.
As a group, the Bling Ring Google celebrities’ addresses, jump gates, enter homes, steal what they can, then flaunt their loot at hot shit L.A. clubs. They drink, they snort, they smoke. Pause. Sleep it off. Repeat. They do this without a care in the world, or a nagging thought of getting caught. Their thievery defines them, and their foolish arrogance brings them down.
In addition to Sales’ article, Sofia Coppola has taken inspiration from a number of various sources. The Bling Ring crimes attracted national media attention as they were happening – news reports and interviews with those suspected of the crimes were common. E!’s horrifying reality show, Pretty Wild, followed Alexis Neiers (who was the basis for Watson’s character in the film) as she battled her Bling Ring court case in real time. Entire scenes from Pretty Wild are depicted in Coppola’s film, and the director does a fine job crafting the absurd antics of Neiers and her family into dramatic storytelling.
But The Bling Ring isn’t perfect. At 90 minutes long, I was saddened that the film grew somewhat repetitive. After they broke into Paris Hilton’s mansion for the fourth time, for example, I simply got the point. Thankfully, Coppola knows how to keep the audience enthralled. In the film’s most breathtaking sequence, the Bling Ring rob Audrina Patridge’s lavish home in one extended master shot, with the camera placed far away, slowly pushing in on the theft. It’s the kind of patiently unique sequence that Coppola will be remembered by.
I’m a fan of Sofia Coppola’s work. Her detractors often accused her films of being self indulgent and aimless. If that’s your general understanding of her films, then The Bling Ring is not for you. But for those seeking something distinctive, bold, and deliberate, The Bling Ring will surely impress. It isn’t Coppola’s best film, but it may eventually be regarded as her most compulsively entertaining. And so it is. B+
Note: The Bling Ring is dedicated to its cinematographer, Harris Savides, who died last October from brain cancer. Savides was a master of low light and digital framing. The Bling Ring was the last film he lensed, and it is a perfect testament to his immense artistry.