Bank Job, The (United Kingdom, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The Bank Job is a heist movie in the classic tradition - it details every aspect of the caper, from its genesis to its aftermath. The fact that there's political intrigue and espionage swirling around the edges only makes it more fascinating. Director Roger Donaldson, whose resume includes films as diverse as Dante's Peak and The World's Fastest Indian, keeps the pace at a high level so even the "down" moments are driven forward by the film's momentum. And, unlike some crime movies that become so fixated on the plot that everything else gets lost in the mix, Donaldson and his screenwriters take the time to develop the characters.

The Bank Job is based on a true story - a daring 1971 robbery that made front page headlines until MI-5 made a D-Notice request that stifled further coverage by the press (on the grounds that it created a danger to National Security), driving it from the newspapers and into myth and memory. While some of the facts are known, there are many gaps in the official record. Screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian Lefrenais, supposedly collaborating with anonymous inside sources, seek to provide caulk for many of those gaps. Some of what appears on-screen in The Bank Job is speculative, but much has the ring of truth and fits in with the facts. Of course, since the names have been changed "to protect the guilty," The Bank Job doesn't provide any shocking revelations about still-living individuals. What it accomplishes, however, is to present a possible autopsy of a crime that has baffled people for decades. And, regardless of whether it's more fact or fiction, it provides an enjoyable two hours.

The Bank Job's protagonist is Terry Leather (Jason Statham), a typical dodgy East End character. He runs a car-sales garage, is in debt to a loanshark who believes in more than "harsh words" when it comes to repayment, and - perhaps surprisingly - is happily married to the love of his life, Wendy (Keely Hawes). He is a doting father and husband. Enter Martine Love (Saffron Burrows), an old flame-who-might-have-been. When she needs a "villain" to help her with a heist, she approaches Terry with a proposition. She's in possession of information that could net him a lot of money if he can put together a team on short notice to break into the safety deposit vault of a Baker Street bank. With his greed overcoming his good sense, Terry in inclined to believe her but, unbeknownst to him, Martine is not on the level. The puppeteer pulling her strings is an MI5 agent named Tim Everett (Richard Lintern), and he's after the contents of safety deposit box 118 - compromising pictures of Princess Margaret that are being used to blackmail the government. So Terry gathers his crew of six, which includes Martine, a couple of close friends (Stephen Campbell Moore, Daniel Mays) and two others, without being aware of what he's really getting involved in.

When one looks back at the plot of The Bank Job from a post-end credits perspective, its complexity is apparent. It weaves together a large number of subplots, including police corruption, MI5 gamesmanship, hard-core criminal activity (including murder and extortion) and, of course, the caper itself. By eliminating flashy cinematography and editing, approaching the material in a clear, chronological fashion, and providing only the details necessary to flesh out crucial aspects of the story, the filmmakers never lose the viewer in a muddle of tangential characters and issues. The audience isn't left for long to wonder about the purpose of the naked water frolic at the beginning or the incorporation of crime lord/activist Michael X into the mix.

For better or worse, this is the kind of character with which Jason Statham has become associated. Over the course of a career begun under the guidance of Guy Ritchie, most of his performances have fallen into this "tough guy" category, so it's impossible to argue with the casting. He's easily the best-known member of the troupe. Some viewers may recognize Saffron Burrows or David Suchet, but neither has a mainstream following. The important thing to note is that everyone disappears into their roles, which is the kind of thing one has come to expect from low-profile British movies. When the entire supporting cast is comprised of character actors, this result is achieved.

Much as I enjoyed Stephen Soderbergh's Oceans trilogy (more for the camaraderie and chemistry of the actors/characters than for the plots), The Bank Job illustrates how much more richness there can be in a heist movie when layers are fabricated into the story and the narrative extends beyond the central caper. When this movie ends, the viewer feels as if he has seen an entire tale unfold rather than merely having been granted the chance to peer through a window at the inner workings of an infamous historical crime. The Bank Job is smart, well-paced, exciting entertainment for adults - something that is more of a rarity than it should be.

Bank Job, The (United Kingdom, 2008)

Run Time: 1:50
U.S. Release Date: 2008-03-07
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Nudity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1