Movie review by Greg Carlson
Jason Statham effectively plays the leader of a gang of robbers in “The Bank Job,” a decent British caper movie in the classic tradition. Loosely based on actual events that took place in London in 1971, the screenplay prefers speculation and invention to historical precision, which ideally suit the movie’s working class ambitions and dry sense of humor. Statham has been primarily known to American audiences for his tough guy roles in Guy Ritchie movies as well as for his martial arts proficiency in the “Transporter” films. In “The Bank Job,” the actor is provided a chance to shine as a more dimensional character, and demonstrates a genuine charisma that should lead to bigger and better opportunities.
Despite its convoluted plot involving compromising photos of Princess Margaret, the Black militant known as Michael X, corrupt police officers, a sleazy Soho porn producer, an ex-model turned government instrument, and a possible media blackout driven by national security concerns, director Roger Donaldson manages to keep the intertwined plot threads relatively clear, mostly entertaining, and nearly always on track. So many balls in the air at once inevitably reduce the allotment of time that can be devoted to developing the supporting players, but with few exceptions, the characters are fleshed out and interesting.
Statham’s Terry Leather is a sports car mechanic and dealer who reconnects with old flame Martine (Saffron Burrows) when she approaches him about tunneling under a Lloyds vault to make off with the contents of safe deposit boxes. Like all heist movies, a team of specialists is required, and “The Bank Job” fulfills its obligations efficiently, introducing a Rogues Gallery of affable conmen who certainly appear to be more amateur than professional. Martine, hoping to earn immunity following an airport drug bust, doesn’t tell the fellows that in essence, they are being set up, since she is literally and figuratively in bed with an operative and every step of the burglary is being monitored by spooks from MI5.
The safecracking itself is picked up by a ham radio operator listening in to walkie-talkie chatter (one part of the movie that is rooted in history), and the suspense cranks up as one set of cops closes in while the intelligence agents watch and wait. Donaldson has an affinity for the nearly bumbling thieves, and the plot often employs fortunate breaks and blind luck to keep the protagonists one step ahead of the various factions that would like to apprehend them. By the final act, the cat and mouse games turn on a series of public meetings in which documents are to change hands, and Statham partakes in some of the physical violence that seems to be expected of him.
“The Bank Job” doesn’t compare to legendary genre examples like “Rififi” or even more recent offerings like “Inside Man,” but there is something reassuring about the clockwork expectations of caper flicks that enthusiasts will find appealing. Burrows’ smoldering femme fatale complements Statham’s steely eyes and square jaw. Donaldson doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with their relationship, and cuts away when the two succumb to their mutual attraction. In a different movie, the adulterous romance might have been explored in more detail, but “The Bank Job” is strictly about business.
This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 3/10/08.