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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

The Bank Job (review)

Proper Villains

I wouldn’t want to live in the world of The Bank Job, in which absolutely everyone is corrupt except for the bad guys. Wait: I guess we already do. Sure, of course we do, cuz this is based on a true story, and what’s most interesting about the truth of it is not the criminal derring-do but the audacity of everyone else, none of whom would dare to call themselves criminal, even though they are.
It’s like this. In September of 1971, the British newspapers were full of the news of the brazen robbery of a safe-deposit vault at a Baker Street bank. There are some astonishing details that, if you’re up on your London urban legends — since this really did happen, we need to use that word only in the sense of “legendary,” not in the sense of “myth” — you probably already know, but which I won’t reveal here because if you don’t already know them, they add a refreshingly original kind of suspense to what’s unfolding onscreen. Suffice to say that the cops manage to find out about the robbery while it’s in progress, and they still can’t do a damn thing to stop it.

Calculations on the losses to the thieves are attempted, but the figure is literally incalculable. These are safe deposit boxes. This is where people put their valuable stuff when they don’t want the bank to know what they’re are hiding there. Hardly anyone comes forward to make a claim against their losses.

And then — and here is where the really insidious, really juicy conspiracy-theory stuff comes in — after a few days, the story disappears from the newspapers. It’s just gone, like it never existed. Rumors of a government coverup abound. Rumors run wild about what could possibly have been stolen from those boxes — maybe just one of those boxes — that would prompt the government to quash the story.

That’s where The Bank Job exists, in the delicious space between all the unknowns, filling in those blanks, guessing on some of it but working from as many possibly known quantities as it can. Maybe it’s not the 100-percent truth — maybe it’s half, or more, invented. But it’s a damn good guess, and a ridiculously entertaining one.

Jason Statham (War, Crank) — whom I’ve never much liked before, but he’s perfect here — leads a band of, well, patsies, though of course they don’t know that’s what they are: guys who’ve been set up to pull off this break-in and take out something that the British covert agencies really, really need to keep secret. (The someone it belongs to is threatening to go public with it, and it’s that someone’s box the thing needs to be stolen from.) Statham’s small-time crook Terry cooks up a careful plan for the job, but he’s suspicious, of course, of the old girlfriend, Martine (Saffron Burrows: Reign Over Me, Troy), who brought it to him, and he’s right to be. Terry ain’t the brightest bulb, but he ain’t totally stupid, either, and he knows she’s up to something.

We do too, which is part of the brilliance of the script by the team of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (Across the Universe, Flushed Away): we know more than Terry does, and even if we don’t know it all, even if we can’t guess how it’s all going to shake out, we know it’s not gonna be good… but it is gonna be a whole helluva lot of fun getting there. That much is obvious from the get-go.

Did I say I didn’t want to live in this world? It’s not so bad, actually, if we’ve got no choice. Director Roger Donaldson (The Recruit, Thirteen Days) makes the cynicism of not being able to trust anyone but a crook like Terry — who’s not a bad guy at all, even if his work is a bit shady — seem like an okay place to be. And The Bank Job ends up being a fresh and cheery spin on the heist movie. Cuz it really is easy to root for Terry and his gang, like we always want to root for the villains in movies like these. Because the acknowledged villains are the only ones worth rooting for.

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MPAA: rated R for sexual content, nudity, violence and language

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
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  • I’ve been looking forward to this since I saw the trailer running in front of In Bruges. Jason Statham has been one of my favorite actors since I first saw him in Snatch.

    Why is it that the Brits seem to do better heist movies than we do? I mean, Inside Man was really good, but English movies like Snatch. and Sexy Beast and Layer Cake are all just really good.

  • MaryAnn

    Director Ronald Donaldson is Australian, and his last movie, *The World’s Fastest Indian,* was insufferably adorable. I’m not sure we can call this a “British” movie.

  • Takes place in London. English actors.

    British movie.

  • MaryAnn

    What a bizarre idea. So if Michael Bay shot a movie in London with Hollywood money and a British cast, it would be a British movie? Or would it be an American idea of what England’s about?

    How about if a first-time British filmmaker raised 100,000 pounds from friends and family and shot a low-budget movie in New York with American actors from a script she wrote? Would that be an American movie? Or would it be an indie British idea of what America’s about?

  • I’m just going by what it says on IMDb: It says “UK”. Donaldson’s movie No Way Out is categorized as “USA”. To them, and to me as well, the nationality of the director is not as important in determining the “nationality” of the film. Ridley Scott is English, obviously, but I would consider Blade Runner to be an American movie since it was shot here, takes place here, and its cast is mostly from here.

  • MaryAnn

    So, you *are* saying, then, that if Michael Bay shot a movie in London with Hollywood money and a British cast, it would be a British movie.

    Okay. :->

  • Yes.

    But I am reasonably confident that the Brits would never issue Michael Bay a work visa to film a movie there. :-)

  • MaryAnn

    I bet they would…

  • zygarch

    MaryAnn, great review. This movie was SO much fun. And as you say, all those astonishing details… as well as the “delicious space” between fact and the unknown that this movie occupies– whew! a mind blower.

    Also happy to see Saffron Burrows excellent performance in a role of an actual character, rather than the typical “sidekick girlfriend.” In fact, she shaded the aimless has-been model with just the right amount of melancholy and yearning. Went nicely with the convincing desperate dreamer of Statham’s loser crook-cum-used-car dealer.

    Many on the net have posted that The Bank Job is old-fashioned and shows us nothing new and lacks big action set-pieces. Yes, it’s conventionally shot and edited, low on explosions, and the narrative is chronological, but I see it as appropriate to the retro setting of the 70’s as well as the heavier focus on character as well as actual plot. The dazzle is not in the heist itself, but in the motivations and machinations behind it.

    And yes, personally, I would call this a “British film.” In addition to the cast, location, setting, and story (of a specifically British event), both writers are British and have been awarded the O.B.E. [Officer of the Order of the British Empire] honors by Her Majesty the Queen. But let’s move on from that petty little exchange.

    Just go see the movie.

  • joe

    Got to say I thoroughly enjoyed it, first movie in months i saw at the cinema that i can say this about!

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