Sunday, March 09, 2008

"The Bank Job" is a caper well worth catching

First off, forgive me if I'm a bit rusty at this, because if I'm not mistaken, this is indeed the first movie I've made the effort to review this year.

The reasons for that, I would say, are three-fold: I'm still not paid to do this, the movies (for the most part) have just been remarkably bad, and, unless it's of a movie that I clearly expected more from, bad reviews simply aren't as fun to write. The lone exception to this flow of mediocre muck had been Michel Gondry's "Be Kind Rewind," an oddly endearing little movie that I passed on commenting on because, I'll confess, I'm still trying to wrap my mind around exactly what it was about. If you can still see it (which I doubt), I would encourage every one to do so, especially for the last half hour or so, which is pure magic.

But I certainly digress, because today's movie is "The Bank Job," luckily a much more straightforward kind of flick but, in its own way, just as enjoyable.

If you look at the poster for this one you know it's promising the kind of old-fashioned kind of heist flick we just don't see much of anymore, and I'm pleased to report that it delivers on that with spirit.

Roger Donaldson's flick tells the (mostly, I'd have to assume, though probably not entirely) true story of the biggest heist in U.K. history, which netted for those who survived it a share of $4 million pounds or so. Like with any great heist flick, however, it's about a lot more than money, and Donaldson, who, believe it or not, actually directed the movie "Cocktail" way back in the day (whatever happened to Brian Brown, anyway?), takes an approach that's at least as welcome for what it leaves out as for what it includes.

For me, heist movies work best, as Donaldson's flick does, when they focus on the crime itself and its consequences rather than a) gadgets that strain and crush credibility; b) a cast of characters that pile on quirk just for quirk's sake; c) slang that sounds like nothing anyone, in Britain or elsewhere, ever uses; or d) using a constantly moving (and shaking) camera as a substitute for any real urgency. Yes, I'm taking aim here at Stephen Soderbergh (for the Oceans that come after 11), Guy Ritchie (for "Snatch," not "Lock, Stock") and Paul Greengrass (for that last Bourne flick, which just left me with a huge headache.)

Donaldson is able to resist all that because he wisely understands that the true story he has here, transcribed for the screen by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, is as crazy as just about anything he or anyone else could have made up. I don't want to give too much away, but it involves, among other things, a black militant (named, funnily enough, Michael X) with incriminating photos of a royal with rather loose virtues, politicians who pay women for more than your most conventional kind of sex and, of course, MI5 or MI6 (I've never really mastered what exactly how many MI's there are or what each one really does, which I suppose is by design.)

And the flick almost, but not quite, falls apart in the third act as all these forces start to converge, but wisely wraps things up before you have time to think about it all too much. The flick is at its best when it simply focuses on the band of rather ordinary folks who pulled off this rather extraordinary heist and, for the most part, got away with it.

At the center of it all is Jason Statham, and be warned: Though he plays a fairly bad dude, fans who enjoy watching him kick ass (of which, in small doses, you can count me as one) will be rather sorely disappointed; he indeed doesn't throw many punches at all until he's kicking a prostate old man (you won't hear who from me) in the cojones. It's still a commanding enough performance to carry the flick, but just as much credit goes to Saffron Burrows, who up until now had really made little to no impression on me at all. As the femme (for some, at least) fatale who lures Statham and his mates into this crazy scheme, she not only has the look that would make men follow her just about anywhere, but for once in movies like this, gets to play an active role in the caper and makes the most of it.

As far as the many supporting players, I will reveal that that is indeed David Suchet (a k a Hercule Poirot) who plays a truly sleazy porn king (well, duke really) with relish, and that Colin Salmon (a k a almost-the-first-black-James-Bond and a familiar face to "Prime Suspect" fans) plays one of the "militants," though to tell you which one would just spoil the fun.

I hope more than a few people will turn out for this one, rather than (or maybe in addition to) Roland Emmerich's latest empty spectacle. Peace out.


Chalupa said...

My wife always refers to Saffron Burrows as "that long-necked woman." The last thing I can remember her in is Reign Over Me as the woman who had some business to clear up with Don Cheadle at the dentist office.

Mercurie said...

I definitely want to see The Bank Job, being a long time fan of caper movies. Good to know it's worth the price of admission.

jeremy said...

So . . . I've gotta know--what'd you think of the Wire finale?

Reel Fanatic said...

I should have posted something about that this morning, Jeremy, but I'm kinda still wrapping my brain around all that they crammed into that 90 minutes ... I thought the McNulty wake was fantastic, and I wasn't surprised at all that Simon let Templeton get away with all his shenanigans .. My only real complaint was that ending montage where we saw everything in the future (Daniels the defense attorney, Carcetti the governor) .. "The Wire" has never been about spoonfeeding endings to us like that, so it bugged me a bit ... I also loved seeing Marlo's reaction to being "Stringered" by Levy

Bob said...

I'm looking forward to this one. I realized I hadn't actually seen that many of Donaldson's movies but I loved "The World's Fastest Indian" so I'm excited.
I saw "Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day" this weekend and I really enjoyed it. I'll post a review of it soon (probably after I see "Bank" so I can just do them together). There are some great screwball moments in it, particularly early on. Screwball comedies are just something we need more of I think. Between "Pettigrew" and "Leatherheads" maybe I'll get my fix.

Reel Fanatic said...

I definitely would have seen "Miss Pettigrew" last weekend if it had been playing in my little corner of the world, Bob .. I love Amy Adams and Frances McDormand dearly, and can't imagine why a movie with the two of them in it wouldn't get a wide release

James said...

I LOVED THIS MOVIE!!! I want to see it again and plan on owning the DVD.

I have always liked Jason Statham since, "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels."

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