“It being strictly a history of a boy, it must stop here; the story could not go much further without becoming the history of a man,” wrote Mark Twain in concluding The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, acutely tying the novel’s perspective to that of a starry-eyed young boy. Even the author’s subsequent The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, though more mature in its themes, yoked itself to an adolescent’s point of view. And while it transforms Twain’s iconic characters into weary thirtysomethings, the lovingly witty Bank of Robbers successfully maintains the rambunctious spirit of the books, its tone deftly maneuvering between fantastical wonder and real-world fear, as if forcing its main characters to square their innate gaiety with the facts of existence.
The film’s rollicking narrative centers on the mythical treasure that’s proved elusive for Tom and Huck (Adam Nee and Kyle Gallner) since childhood. Their search for it gives way to a comic heist gone wrong, with evil Injun Joe (Stephen Lang) on their trail. Though in the novel Joe embodied so many racist generalizations of Native Americans, Band of Robbers fashions a recurring joke around Joe’s appropriation of the Native American “aesthetic,” one that could have stood for more examination, but nonetheless deals swiftly and aptly with the elephant in the room.
Jim the runaway slave, meanwhile, becomes Jorge (Daniel Edward Mora), Tom and Huck’s getaway driver and an illegal immigrant, a distinction that mostly exists for plot purposes, as the main characters never have to square with who he is in any meaningful way. Indeed, Band of Robbers places more focus on the childish fabulousness of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer than the racial reckoning of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
But the film doesn’t lack for gravitas, as it reclaims the ineffectual conclusion to the otherwise exceptional The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Tom Sawyer makes an unfortunate appearance at the end of the book, fashioning an escape for an already free Jim and, in effect, recasting Twain’s reflective examination of 1800s America as boyhood fantasy. In Band of Robbers, the escape Tom plans for Jorge is no less ridiculous, but packed with pathos, as Tom uses the ordeal primarily to fashion a hero’s journey for himself.
“We’re the types of guys they tell stories about,” Tom says to Huck, in a moment that’s less meta than genuinely melancholic. This coda comes across like a self-invented tall tale, a subtle damning of perpetual adolescence as Tom’s youthful spirit is rendered less a blessing than a curse. “Some things never change,” Huck says in the film’s opening voiceover like he always knows what’s coming, “even when they probably should.”