March 13, 2008

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The Bank Job (R)
A band of slightly inept robbers break into a bank vault in 1970s London and steal a whole big bag of trouble in The Bank Job, a fun, fast-paced crime story that settles somewhere between serious drama and whimsical caper.

Terry Leather (Jason Statham) runs a semi-honest business (we first meet him as an assistant rolls back the odometer on some used cars he’s trying to sell at his small lot) and has debts with some even less honest shady characters (we meet them when they come to collect money and leave only after breaking a few car windows). In other words, exactly the kind of guy open to a little non-violent crime that could leave him sitting pretty for life. Martine Love (Saffron Burrows), a former model and girl Terry knew from the neighborhood, has just such a plan. She says that the man she’s seeing has told her that the alarms at a particular bank are off for a few days for repairs and that this provides the perfect opportunity to tunnel into the bank from a nearby store and break into the vault containing the safe deposit boxes. Terry is skeptical but agrees, roping in a few of his equally in-need-of-a-boost friends and a slightly more professional criminal or two.

What he doesn’t know but we do is that the burglary is actually being egged on by men at the highest levels of government who want Martine to steal some photos we see taken in the film’s early scenes. These photos, kept in the safe deposit boxes, show a frolicking Princess Margaret, and the spies plan to steal them from their owner — a criminal masquerading as a political activist named Michael X (Peter De Jesery). What neither Terry nor Martine nor the government knows is that the boxes also contain the belongings of other criminals — ones who might be just as eager and forceful as the spy crowd to recover their contents.

The men bumble through the robbery with relative success but they soon realize that money and jewels are the most innocuous of the things they stole and there are worse fates than getting caught by the police.

Terry and his friends aren’t particularly good at robbing banks and go about it a bit like you or I with our knowledge of investigation by way of Law & Order and C.S.I. might, amateurishly covering their tracks and making plans that seem half cunning and half shaky. It’s a fun way for a movie to put together a big theft — not the slickness of a “serious” heist film but not entirely comic bumbling either.

It’s the post-heist scenes — usually the letdown in movies like this — that really make the movie more than expected. You get a twisted knot of plots that unravel not in the way any of the groups of schemers had planned. You see genuine consequences — not just the threat of danger — and a surprisingly good scene of righteous anger from Terry’s wife. And then you have the side plots of the various criminals and law enforcement officers (some of whom themselves seem like criminals) trying to find their way out of trouble.

The Bank Job reminds you that a tale of cops and robbers doesn’t need to be all about the action or mired in some kind of study of criminal personalities. Sometimes it can simply be an energetic story, well-told and full of genuine surprises. B+

Rated R for sexual content, nudity, violence and language. Directed by Roger Donaldson and written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, The Bank Job is an hour and 50 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Lionsgate.