Dir: Roger Donaldson. US/UK/Australia. 2008. 111 mins.
The juicy combination of a Royal sex scandal, high-level corruption and the perfect crime provides The Bank Job with too many options for its own good. An entertaining recreation of true events from the 1970s, it veers between larkish, old-fashioned Italian Job-style caper, Scandal-like commentary on establishment hypocrisy and a more edgy, hardboiled thriller.
The uneven tone of the film will be problematic for some viewers and critics but there are still enough diamond geezers and dodgy deeds for The Bank Job to be embraced as a slick slice of lightweight Saturday night escapism. Solid UK theatrical prospects will rest on a lively marketing campaign, nostalgic older viewers and Jason Statham fans. The very British material at the core of the film is unlikely to resonate as strongly internationally, where Statham's bankability will be the determining factor for success.
Unfolding in 1971 London, The Bank Job offers a superior job of period recreation, from a lively soundtrack featuring T-Rex's Get It On to a succession of haircuts and artefacts that seem appropriate without overstating the case. Michael Coulter's burnished, steely cinematography lends a classy visual polish to the proceedings. Screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais are British sitcom veterans (including material from the 1970s) and have an ear for dialogue and attitude that proves a comfortable fit for material that is a little too fond of familiar stereotypes from both the British elite and the fraternity of small time crooks.
Statham plays car dealer Terry Leather. Saffron Burrows is Martine, an old flame who enlists his services for a lucrative robbery that is said to be a sure thing. Leather assembles his team to tunnel into a bank on Baker Street and raid the safety deposit boxes, unaware that he is not the only one who will profit from his actions.
Martine, for one, is working for the British secret service, which hopes the robbery will help conceal the theft of a particular deposit box that contains compromising photographs of a member of the Royal family (who we assume is Princess Margaret). And nobody realises the boxes also contain a ledger belonging to Soho porn boss Vogel (Suchet), detailing every bribe he has ever paid to the police.
The screenplay does an efficient job of pulling together the different narrative strands and depicting a world in which honest, working-class bank robbers are the most decent fellows walking the streets. The later lurch into more violent territory as characters are tortured and killed seems a sop towards a more contemporary, commercial thriller and jars with the lighter tone in the rest of the film.
Director Roger Donaldson injects pace and energy into the proceedings but his approach is a little pedestrian and he never seems prepared to have much fun with the material or stamp it with a particular authority. Perhaps he is too concerned with simply making sure all the story points are covered, as the plot thickens to include black power maverick Michael X (Peter de Jersey) and his murderous activities.
Statham is effectively cast in a role that does little to stretch him and it is the other cast members who bring some humour and colour to the proceedings. Burrows' cool intelligence is well matched to her role of femme fatale, Mays makes the most of cheery gang member Dave, and Suchet lends his customary authority to seedy businessman Vogel.
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Mosaic Media Group
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Ian La Frenais
Director of photography
J. Peter Robinson
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