The Bank Job (2008)
|Writers:||Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais|
|Cast:||Jason Statham, Saffron Burrows, Richard Lintern, Stephen Campbell Moore, Daniel Mays|
|Released:||Friday, March 7, 2008|
|Rating:||Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.|
A car dealer with a dodgy past and new family, Terry (Jason Statham) has always avoided major-league scams. But when Martine (Saffron Burrows), a beautiful model from his old neighborhood, offers him a lead on a foolproof bank hit on London's Baker Street, Terry recognizes the opportunity of a lifetime. Martine targets a roomful of safe deposit boxes worth millions in cash and jewelry. But Terry and his crew don't realize the boxes also contain a treasure trove of dirty secrets - secrets that will thrust them into a deadly web of corruption and illicit scandal that spans London's criminal underworld, the highest echelons of the British government, and the Royal Family itself...the true story of a heist gone wrong...in all the right ways.
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A year or so ago I watched a TV show about the daylight Los Angeles bank robbery where two psychopaths, carrying AK-47's with armor-piercing ammo in giant 50-round drums and clothed head-to-toe in custom body armor took on a bank and the entire LA police force. Incredibly, none of the police were killed (although, after walking through volleys of gunfire, eventually and improbably at least one of the robbers was). This was a good story. It was true. It was exciting and tense (they had audio of wounded officers calling desperately for help while the bad guys unleashed their seemingly unlimited supply of bullets into the surrounding neighborhoods). It had a (semi) happy ending. Real life bank robberies are good watching. Real life bank robberies are drama.
In 1971 a real-life London bank (on Baker street) was robbed by a team tunneling under the street from a nearby store they'd purchased. They got away with the contents of multiple safety deposit boxes containing money and--if the story is to be believed--pornographic pictures of a member of the royal family. Shortly after the robbery the government issued an order to suppress the investigation for reasons of national security (so the pictures would not come out). The gang was never captured. The material was never recovered. Mixed up in this was black radical Michael X who was apparently a thug, a drug dealer, and styled himself after Malcolm X.
The movie, purporting to tell the true story for the first time, tracks a team of unlikely small-time criminals through the job and beyond. In the style of British gangster movies there aren't many guns but there is plenty of nastiness: trust me--the bad guys? They're plenty bad. The British underworld is portrayed as being as gritty as they come.
Jason Statham is one of the good guys. He's the leader of the amateur robbers and exudes his signature tough-guy charisma (but not so tough that we can't like him). The rest of the cast, all sufficiently English, make a convincing and varied team. As with all charismatic outlaws, we like to pull for them. The real villains are either in the government or in the violent segment of the criminal fraternity.
The movie carries itself well enough. It's credible. It clicks along without too many bumps. Apparently it hews to the facts when it can (there were interceptions of their walkie-talkie communications with dialog from the tapes making its way to the script). If the Wikipedia article is to be believed, although we cannot tell how much of the movie is true it seems that a sufficient amount of it credibly is.
Caper movies are built on the set-up, the plan, complications, and then the pay-off (or aftermath / consequences). The Bank Job gives us a very play-it-straight set up: the plan doesn't involve super-drills or exotic capabilities. There are very few actual tricks played on the audience--the movie doesn't continually hinge (like the Ocean movies do) on conversations the audience can't understand coming into play later. The crooks--although decently clever--are by no means super geniuses. There's even a plausible explanation as to how they get the line on this job.
I think my problem with the movie is that, in a sense, it's too straightforward without really being simple. There are a lot of players involved. There's the thuggish black activist (if he wasn't a real guy--and apparently a nasty piece of work--I'd have found the portrayal of him highly questionable). There are other important political figures with stuff in those vaults they don't want coming out. There are cheatin' women and jealous wives. There are secret agents and double agents. There's a whole lot of stuff going on around the bank job that The Bank Job has to show us to put everything in perspective.
It's maybe too much. The story is lucid enough but while we need to understand why all these parties need their secrets kept--and how they might act to keep them from coming out--mostly they aren't all that interesting. The movie, claiming to be true to the source (it apparently had an insider giving information to the script writers), has to be comprehensive. The whole story, on the other hand, in a hundred and eleven minutes, falls short of fascinating.
In the end, The Bank Job is a good British gangster film. It's a good heist movie--and all the better because it may be historically accurate. It just isn't that electrifying a show. Some day they're going to make a movie about the Los Angeles bank robbery. It won't be nearly as smart. It won't be nearly as fascinating when it comes to the fall out and consequences. But it'll have a lot more shooting and that might make up for it.
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