Italian Job, The (United States, 2003)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The 2003 version of The Italian Job is less of a straightforward remake of the 1969 picture than it is a complete re-interpretation. Enough has changed that it's possible to see the two films not as the same story separated by three decades, but as distinct entities. Expectedly, there are plot similarities (the centerpiece heist contains many of the same elements, including the minis), but the chemistry and motivations of the thieves is different, and the playful, semi-comedic tone of the original has been replaced by something a little less lighthearted.

It's easy to do a heist movie wrong – the genre is littered with countless examples, some by prominent filmmakers. F. Gary Gray has discovered the right recipe – keep things moving, develop a nice rapport between the leads, toss in the occasional surprise, and top with a sprinkling of panache. The Italian Job isn't a masterpiece, but it gets the job done. There are some problems (in particular, the climactic car chase – the one featuring the minis – goes on a little too long), but, for the most part, I was entertained. There's a fair amount of suspense, and I was generally impressed by the thoroughness of the caper plots.

Despite being called The Italian Job, only about 20 minutes of the action takes place in Italy. The lion's share of screen time belongs to Los Angeles, with a quick stop in Philadelphia along the way. (It's worth noting that both the Venice and Philadelphia scenes appear to have been filmed on location, not in a "surrogate city" like Toronto. This is surprisingly important to the movie's strong sense of atmosphere.) There are three capers (or two and one-half, depending on how you count), the most audacious and ingenious of which occurs during the final 20 minutes. The Italian Job has plenty of little twists and turns, but the storyline is not so serpentine that the average viewer will find himself or herself becoming lost. Nevertheless, trips to the bathroom or snack bar are not recommended.

The movie opens in Venice, where a group of six crooks are about to pull off the heist of a lifetime: $35 million in gold, and they plan to do it without holding a gun. The rogues' gallery is comprised of: Charlie (Mark Wahlberg), the young leader running his first big job; John (Donald Sutherland), the crusty veteran safecracker who is Charlie's mentor; Lyle (Seth Green), the computer whiz who was "the real inventor of Napster;" Handsome Rob (Jason Statham), who once drove across the United States just so he could set the record for the longest freeway chase; Half Ear (Mos Def), who, at age 10, put one too many M80s in a toilet bowl; and Steve (Edward Norton), who is about to betray the other five. Once they have the gold, Steve pulls a gun on John, shoots him, then leaves the others for dead. A year later, the group, now including John's daughter, Stella (Charlize Theron), a "professional vault & safe technician," tracks down Steve and plots to take away the gold he stole from them (or what's left of it).

With this film, Mark Wahlberg is appearing in his third recent re-make (the other two: Planet of the Apes and The Truth About Charlie). Wisely, he doesn't attempt to mimic Michael Caine (who played the part in the original), but instead uses his own brand of understated charisma to get us to like Charlie. Charlize Theron, who is incapable of a low-wattage performance, brings some energy to her scenes with Wahlberg. Seth Green, Jason Stratham, and Mos Def alternately provide background muscle and comic relief. Edward Norton does his best Snidely Whiplash impersonation, right down to the mustache.

The Italian Job has occasional busts of smart dialogue ("There are [thieves] who steal to enrich their lives, and ones who steal to define their lives"), but not enough to elevate it to the level of David Mamet's most recent caper movie, Heist. And, while it boasts a less fatuous tone than the original (no Noel Coward or Benny Hill), there are times when it goes for the funny bone. As one of the early entries into the 2003 Summer Movie Sweepstakes, The Italian Job delivers all that one could reasonably hope from it, and that makes it worth squeezing in between The Matrix Reloaded and The Hulk.

Italian Job, The (United States, 2003)

Run Time: 1:46
U.S. Release Date: 2003-05-30
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1