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Movie Review: Lift

“We rescue works of art from undeserving owners.”

F. Gary Gray’s 2024 Netflix movie Lift is a retread of his previous, very good buddy-heist film The Italian Job, itself inspired by the success of the great buddy-heist film Ocean’s Eleven. Lift is certainly not great, and not even as good as The Italian Job, but it has a gentle heartwarming quality that makes it worth watching. It’s like a Hallmark movie with violence and a pro-crime message.

Kevin Hart plays Cyrus, a reiteration of Mark Walberg in The Italian Job. Like Marky Mark, Cyrus leads a kindly team of thieves (they steal art) who support one another while crafting elaborate con/theft/revenge/Robin Hood scenarios that always work exactly as they expect they will.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Abby, the strait-laced Interpol agent who falls for Cyrus even though she disapproves of crime, especially art crime. (In other words, she's playing Charlize Theron's role.)

The villains are Jean Reno (terrorist), Sam Worthington (using his Australian accent as Abby’s boss at Interpol), and the woefully underused Burn Gorman and Paul Anderson (henchmen). I am not going to bother telling you much more about these characters than the actors who play them, because each character serves a precise, almost clockwork-like function within the buddy-heist template. There are no surprises here, aside from the quality of the cast compared to the quality of the movie.

There are, of course, sidekicks galore: Úrsula Corberó (from Money Heist), Yun Jee Kim, Billy Magnussen (going full wacky), Viveik Kalra, and even Vincent D'Onofrio. According to his title card, he plays a “Master of Disguise [sort of]” (because, yes, this is the sort of movie with title cards for each non-villain character). There’s a real possibility that his character has dissociative identity disorder, which is never addressed, a fact I find charming rather than disturbing, because this is a movie about loving and trusting people who deserve love and trust.

The only people who don’t deserve love and trust, according to Lift, are mean bosses, tech billionaires, and terrorists. Creators of NFTs? They do deserve love. Yes, this is a movie that treats NFTs as art worth taking seriously. It was filmed in early 2022. Times have changed.

Gray knows his way around an action scene. There’s a speedboats-in-Venice scene that rivals the one from, you guessed it, The Italian Job. There’s a fight on a plane (loved it!) that leads to a massive plane heist (also very cool!). That was fun stuff.

But there are other scenes that land like a lead balloon. Sometimes, exterior shots look like they’ve been lit by someone whose only training was working at Glamour Shots in a 1990s mall. Other times, writer Daniel Kunka’s script reads like a bad tweet about how to have difficult conversations in an emerging romantic partnership.

All of that is...a really negative review. But I’d recommend this little film, which has pluck and heart and a profoundly basic—and therefore profoundly charming—tone of optimism, teamwork, and even unconditional love, of both the romantic and platonic kind. Everyone, aside from the villains, is kind. They listen to one another. They disagree, but not for long, because they soon reach a consensus on how to benefit the most people while hurting the least.

Many critics identified a lack of chemistry between Cyrus and Abby as a central problem of the film, but I’m choosing to see it as a feature rather than a bug. Their “deep” conversations may be horribly written, but both actors bring an openness to the dialogue that, against all odds, allows them to create characters who seem to value actual human connection.

In The Art of Loving, sociologist Erich Fromm identifies flaws with how we conceptualize love in the modern day. Two of those flaws are rooted in capitalism: isolating desirable characteristics as though we are comparison shopping for a new trendy item (he wrote this in 1956!), and defining a successful romantic relationship as being a “team” who “work well together,” as though the goal of true love is corporate efficiency rather than mutuality.

Fromm defines actual love as care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge, and this film is very much in tune with those concepts. That’s why I like Vincent D’Onofrio’s character so much: he’s very, very odd, and doesn’t seem to contribute much of value to the team, but they love him, so he is there, as welcome and loved as anyone else. (It’s also a delight to see Kingpin smile.)

I don’t like Hallmark movies, but as I get older I do like movies that make my heart smile a tiny bit. (My face remains frozen in its traditional frown.) F. Gary Gray is pretty good at that: I’ve mentioned my affection for The Italian Job, but it’s worth noting the found-family-friendly influence of the Fast and Furious franchise (he directed the eighth one), or some scenes in Straight Outta Compton, that allow us to see the focus on camaraderie that runs deep in his oeuvre.

Lift isn’t the most joyous thing I’ve ever seen, but it has a mild, kindly sensibility that makes it more appealing than it ought to be. It's worth 105 minutes of your time, and you might enjoy it.

Four out of four NFTs. Why not? They’re worthless.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)


  1. Sold. I was looking for something to watch tonight and I loved The Italian Job. Even though it's not quite as good, I bet I'll enjoy it.

    And Josie, one of the things I enjoy about your writing is that I'm reading a review of an action thriller on Netflix and suddenly I'm learning about Erich Fromm and love relationships. :)

  2. I'm curious to see what you think!

  3. Just saw it and yes, I did enjoy it.

    It does remind me of The Italian Job, a movie I enjoyed so much that I've watched it three times, even though heist movies aren't my thing at all. It's a good movie with a terrific cast. The found family thing is endearing, and the way they all care so much about each other is as lovely as it is unbelievable. The airplane sequences were jaw-dropping.

    Josie, I think you said it all with: "It’s like a Hallmark movie with violence and a pro-crime message." :) Did you try this movie because Paul Anderson is in it?

    1. That's how I heard about it, and knowing that I already liked the director pushed me to watch it. He was barely in it, though! And looked...well, not great. I wonder if they cut his role down.

      I'm actually curious about the entire backstory of this movie. It filmed in 2022 and only came out this month. That's a really long delay, even with the strikes.

      I will review The Italian Job someday.


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