Friday, March 21, 2008

On the Job

Haven't reviewed a movie in a little while. Frankly, there hasn't been much I wanted to see recently. But I'm a serious Jason Statham fan so I had to get out to the 'plex and see ...

The Bank Job (d. Roger Donaldson)

I don't usually post pictures on these reviews, but just look at that poster image. From the shot of Statham to the layout to the title font, it could easily be an ad for a 1974 film. And it gives you a plus-size hint as to what Roger Donaldson's The Bank Job is up to.

Based on an actual bank heist from 1971 -- and rather accurately depicted here, from what I understand -- The Bank Job relates the improbable tale of some London lowlifes who stole millions and were never captured. Only relatively recently has it come to light why they were never arrested: along with the cash and jewels they took from the bank vault, they also found a tresure trove of incriminating evidence (blackmail photos, police pay-off records, etc.) implicating top government officials and at least one British royal. It was worth the stolen cash for those people to keep the whole thing quiet. Much of what was taken from the vault was never even reported as stolen.

The leader of this troop of lucky thieves is the improbably named Terry Leather (Statham), a car seller and mechanic for the most part, a street hustler on the side. When Martine (the improbably beautiful Saffron Burrows who American audiences probably know best from her stint on "Boston Legal"), a model from Terry's old neighborhood, shows up out of the blue one day and gives Terry a tip on a bank vault whose alarm system will soon be out of commission for upgrading, Terry and his friends see their chance for the proverbial One Last Big Score.

They have no idea how big.

It's a fairly straightforward heist film set-up, but from the beginning, director Roger Donaldson indicates that there's something much bigger going on than Terry and company making a quick illegal buck (or pound). Secret police, smut merchants, political agitators and corrupt, perverse Ministers of State all figure in the story and only as the scheme plays out can we see how their fates are intertwined.

Donaldson is a director with a wildly erratic resume. His films run the gamut from the solid (The World's Fastest Indian, Cadillac Man) to the suspect (Dante's Peak, the 1994 remake of The Getaway) to the sublimely dreadful (the immortal Tom Cruise signature piece, Cocktail). Here, he takes this story from 1971 and films it as if he was making the movie just a year or so later (thus the poster image). The London of The Bank Job is a seamy, grimy place; the characters are morally ambiguous, at best; and the action is subdued, taking a backseat to the characters and the political machinations. Those coming to this film expecting a high-octane, kick-in-the-face Statham smash-'em-up like Crank or The Transporter films may be disappointed.

But Statham is equal to this challenge. His Terry Leather is a working-class bloke (I love using the word "bloke") who just does what it takes to take care of his family. If that happens to include a little crime, so be it. Statham's performance here is direct and understated. Like the character (and, one suspects, the actor himself), there are no frills, no nonsense. It's a performance that would have been right at home in the working-class dramas of the British new wave, like Look Back in Anger, and it is entirely appropriate for the retro style of the film.

The rest of the cast, consisting almost entirely of faces that will be new to American audiences, all accomodate themselves well, with particularly excellent work by Daniel Mays as Terry's buddy Dave, an amateur porn actor who suffers a painful end, and David Suchet as the menacing smut peddler Lew Vogel.

The 1970s are considered a Golden Age for complicated, serious moviemaking. The Bank Job is a worthy heir to that legacy.

3 1/2 stars.

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