The Bank Job

March, 2008, Thriller

Directed by:Roger Donaldson

Starring:Jason Statham and Saffron Burrows

 

Movies about elaborate heists form one of the more durable sub-genres in crime cinema; whether deadly serious, (Riffi) wondrously goofy, (Big Deal on Madonna Street), or loaded with glossy improbabilities, (Ocean’s 11, 12 & 13) the chance to observe felonious cunning pitted against apparent impregnability has lured audiences to the box-office since 1903 when The Great Train Robbery was released, instantly becoming the granddaddy of all caper films. Add a dash of appealing color to the crooks, make their victims despicable and you have a nearly perfect cinematic recipe for a shamelessly appealing movie. 

Veteran British screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais fictionally recreate here an actual 1971 London bank robbery that netted three million dollars for the enterprising looters, none of whom were ever arrested. A gag order on press coverage of the crime issued at the time by the British government hinted at suppressed political scandal; Director Roger Donaldson, (No Way Out, The Recruit) has taken these ingredients and fashioned a hearty stew of a movie that goes briskly from set-up to break-in to frenetic ending with tongue in cheek and eye on the box-office. Crime should always be this much fun.

Small-time thief Terry Leather, (Jason Statham) and his mates get by on a mixture of occasional employment and nicking the odd car, marrying part-time work with opportunistic crimes. (They’re not the brightest bulbs on the tree, but they possess a code of ethics Damon Runyon would have evidenced had his short stories been situated in the British Isles.) When Martine Love, an old flame of Terry’s, suggests that her present lover has knowledge of a particularly vulnerable bank, Terry organizes a quartet of his buddies to tunnel into a vault full of safe deposit boxes over a weekend. Martine insists on joining the break-in because her current boyfriend, who works for British intelligence, is blackmailing her into retrieving compromising photos of a member of the royal family which reside in one of the bank’s many lock boxes, placed there by a politically radical drug dealer who threatens to use them in order to avoid deportation. Martine faces a drug bust if she doesn’t deliver the goods, but she doesn’t tell Terry and his lads about her ulterior motives. Yet what neither of them know is (1) that a well-known madam has placed “compromising” photos of senior government officials in the same vault nor (2) that a shadowy, flesh-peddling thug uses this same institution to safeguard the list of bribes he’s paid to senior officers in London’s police department. If Terry and his crew are successful, a number of very powerful people are going to awfully unhappy…

Donaldson and his screenwriters present the various players in this roundelay so quickly that Bank’s plot is initially rather hard to follow, but as planning for the robbery beings to take shape, the action moves forward crisply. Having grown suspicious of Martine, Terry alters the plan for leaving the crime scene, setting off the film’s final reel which features the frantic - - and conflicting - - efforts of England’s security service, London’s constabulary and Soho’s underworld to recover items which interest them separately but incriminate them collectively.

Donaldson’s a journeyman director, capable of shaping the material contained in a storyline without adding anything terribly insightful in the process, (the man responsible for both Cocktail and Dante’s Peak is never going to be accused of profundity) but depth isn’t the object here; this is a tale of bad guys and worse guys, the latter more reprehensible because they’re both vile and pretentious, which allows the director to make their comeuppance all the more satisfying. Because Bank’s storyline jumps from the Caribbean to more locations in London than a tourist could see in a decade, the film’s individual scenes are shot with little more than minimal attention paid to detail in costume, set design and lighting. This gives The Bank Job a slightly grimy, low-budget look, a perfect visual commentary on its villains, whose lifestyles and moral codes run from salacious to non-existent. By comparison, Terry and his light-fingered crew are the epitome of virtue; the audience naturally pulls for them from the outset.

As Terry, Statham adds another successful role to his burgeoning portfolio; a former fashion model and one-time member of Britain’s National Diving Team, Statham made his acting debut exactly a decade ago playing a thug named Bacon in Guy Ritchie’s memorable Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Since then, he’s appeared in an additional 24 movies, many of which have employed his compact physicality and sinister good looks to portray action heroes in films of dubious quality, (Transporter 1 & 2, Revolver) as well as curiously sympathetic villains, (Cellular, Crank). With 4 films yet to be released, (3 of which are sequels of earlier box-office successes) this gritty English actor obviously appeals to a considerable swath of America’s movie-going public. Until the bravura action climax of this film, Statham tones down his macho style, delivering a thoroughly credible petty crook seeking one big score so he can go straight and devote himself to his working-class wife and two young daughters. He may not have the dashing appeal of Nick Nolte in The Good Thief, (the genre’s most recent masterpiece) but Statham never takes Terry beyond his faults and in doing so, creates an unlikely but appealing hero. 

The rest of the cast is thoroughly competent if unremarkable, save for Saffron Burrows, whose Martine Love mixes allure and treachery to produce a particularly credible temptress. The collection of venal police officers, government big-wigs and sleazy sex-trade masterminds bear the stamp of England’s apparently endless reservoir of acting professionals who can perfectly capture the essence of their characters despite minimal on-screen presence. 

The verdict? This is a nifty thriller, with deftly-sketched criminal heroes, steadily building momentum and a collection of robbery victims as delightfully vile as can be imagined. See this one and just enjoy yourself.   

   

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