John Cusack R-Rated Crime Thriller Keeps The Mystery Hot To The End

By Robert Scucci | Published

the bag man

If you thought that Nicolas Cage was the only A-list actor who spent a considerable amount of time occupying direct-to-video territory in the 2010s, you’re gravely mistaken. John Cusack’s career followed a similar trajectory during this time, and the Say Anything actor found himself starring in a dozen films that would not be released theatrically, but rather get picked up as an afterthought at the Redbox outside of your local grocery store. 2014’s The Bag Man resides among these titles, and although Cusack is supported by Robert De Niro and Rebecca Da Costa, it’s one of those strange neo-noir crime thrillers that you probably missed out on.

The Bag

the bag man

The Bag Man was originally released as The Carrier, and as the updated titles suggests, there is a mysterious black bag involved and we’re not sure what it contains. John Cusack portrays a killer-for-hire named Jack, who is tasked with securing and containing the bag until his employer, Dragna (Robert De Niro), can meet him at a seedy motel and retrieve it. Dragna makes it very clear that Jack is not to look inside the bag under any circumstances or he will be killed. 

Room 13

the bag man

Jack checks into room 13, as instructed by Dragna, and awaits further instructions, but he’s not alone. He encounters an escort named Rivka (Rebecca Da Costa), and she immediately starts asking questions about the bag that he has hidden underneath his motel bed. Having already been ambushed by a number of Dragna’s men–one of which is now dead and sloppily stuffed into the back of Jack’s car–Jack remains tight-lipped and armed, as he has good reason to not trust anybody he encounters during his mission. 

Taking place primarily inside of room 13, The Bag Man is a claustrophobic film that explores themes of paranoia and moral ambiguity in the kind of setting that will make your skin crawl. The motel lighting flashes in red and blue, which bears a striking resemblance to an approaching cop car (of which there are plenty), which only adds a sense of confusion to the narrative. When Jack does leave the room, he encounters the nosy wheelchair-bound motel owner, Ned (Crispin Glover), and two thugs named Lizard and Guano, who are all suspicious of his activities. 

A Unique Thriller

At face-value, The Bag Man has all the mechanics of a solid neo-noir film, but its third-act reveal leaves a lot to be desired. But within the oppressively small world this film takes place, there’s a solid story that is absolutely worthy of your time if you enjoy the kind of low-budget crime film that doesn’t get a wide theatrical release. 

Butchered By Critics

Unfortunately, The Bag Man was not exactly what we would call a warmly received title despite the talent involved with the production. Critics and audiences alike were quick to brush this crime thriller under the rug, and their respective 11 percent and 22 percent ratings on Rotten Tomatoes drive this point home. 

Not unlike season 2 of True Detective, The Bag Man isn’t as terrible as the reviews make it out to be, and you can place partial blame on expectations versus execution. John Cusack spent decades portraying extremely likable characters in various romantic comedies, and Robert De Niro’s range runs the gamut from serious mobsters in films like Goodfellas to the quirky but nightmarish father in-law in Meet the Parents. If you go into watching The Bag Man expecting performances that are reflective of Cusack’s and De Niro’s past work, you’re probably going to be disappointed. 

It’s Not Streaming Now But It Will Be

But still, The Bag Man is an interesting, dark and gritty exploration of a job gone wrong under questionable circumstances. If you want to find out what’s in the bag, all you have to do is set a reminder on Netflix so you know when it’s available. But if the suspense is killing you, you can rent the title on-demand through Apple TV+, YouTube, and Google Play right now.