Refreshingly ambitious and thoughtfully constructed, the tersely titled Take is a close-up look at a pair of troubled souls: Anne (Driver), a hardworking wife and mother struggling to make ends meet, and Saul (Renner), a debt-ridden gambler whose creditors take an especially dim view of defaulters. We see each character in the hours leading up to the crime that links their lives forever, as well as years later, with Anne driving through the California desert, hellbent on witnessing Saul’s imminent execution. Jumping back and forth through space and time, Take in effect gives us four interlocking story arcs, moving inexorably toward a pair of foreordained climaxes.
Among living filmmakers, perhaps only the Dardenne brothers have both the formal chops and spiritual generosity to successfully pull off the movie’s redemptive conclusion, but first-timer Charles Oliver does benefit from Renner’s convincing portrayal of the psychological gradations by which an ordinary man in a tight spot devolves into utter panic. Take also has more than its share of nicely framed shots, but most of the visual ideas feel secondhand, and as the film approaches the first of its twin climaxes, its style degenerates into CSI gimmickry, all rote slo-mo and overexposed frames, and never quite recovers. But while Take eschews (some might say dodges) the issue of the morality of capital punishment, it makes a strong case for bringing killers face-to-face with their victims’ loved ones.