Dir: F Gary Gray. US. 2003. 111 mins.
A stylish, well-paced caper film always find a home, and The Italian Job fits the billing. Certainly in the US it has proved itself at the box office, opening to a strong $19.3m from 2,633 sites for a robust average of $7,330. Given that film lovers still have fond memories of the original 1969 feature, which starred Michael Caine, director F Gary Gray (A Man Apart) had his job cut out. But Donna and Wayne Powers' updated screenplay pays homage to the original - gold heist, traffic jam, Mini Coopers - while providing clever twists on its plot. Mark Wahlberg is a likeable lead but the supporting players steal the show, particularly Seth Green (Austin Powers) and Jason Statham (Snatch). The film will benefit from the PG-13 rating and its minimal violence, not to mention a clever anti-smoking reference.
The film opens in Venice with a nifty heist sequence followed by a spectacular boat chase through the canals, a clever reversal for the car nuts who will flock to the movie. But Charlier Croker (Wahlberg) and his mentor John Bridger (Sutherland) have little chance to enjoy the $35m in gold. One of their gang, Steve (Norton), crosses them, killing Bridger, taking the gold and leaving Charlie and the others for dead in an icy Alpine lake. Jump forward a year to Philadelphia where Croker entices Bridger's daughter Stella (Theron), a law-abiding security specialist, to avenge the murder by snatching back the gold from Steve.
Then it is off to LA, where Steve has retired with his loot in a fortified mansion, to meet the regrouped gang, including techno-geek Lyle (Green), wheelman Handsome Rob (Statham) and Left Ear (Mos Def), a semi-deaf bomb expert. As Charlie and the boys rev up their hotrods and hard-drives, Stella poses as a cable repair person to recon Steve's safe, rebuffing creepy Steve's inevitable advances while her hidden camera gets the goods. But later, when the first heist attempt has to be aborted, she must re-insinuate herself into Steve's life.
This u-turn yields a level of dramatic tension rarely seen in an otherwise light-hearted caper film, and some terrific moments for Norton and Theron, as his character suddenly catches on and forces a showdown. What follows might be described as "rob me if you can", as Charlie and crew pull of a grandiose reprise of their Venetian caper - or as they call it, "the Italian job".
Hardened audiences may be puzzled at the idea of a gang stealing booty back from a turncoat rather than, say, killing him and then taking the gold. But, more so even than the original, this is a gentle fairy-land of good and bad criminals - the LA police are nowhere in evidence as Steve's helicopter chases Charlie's Mini. Also, unlike the swinging 1960s original, it is both chaste -- Wahlberg plants a kiss on Theron's forehead - and morally unambiguous, avoiding the "crime shouldn't pay" conundrum by having criminals steal from criminals in both instances. Whether or not the opportunity to re-cast the Mini Cooper, under new owner BMW, played some part in the decision to remake the film, no doubt it will stimulate similarly healthy sales.
Prod co: Paramount Pictures, De Line Pictures, Working Title Films, Studio Canal
US dist: Paramount Pictures
Int'l sales: UIP
Exec prods: James R Dyer, Wendy Japhet, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner
Prod: Donald De Line
Scr: Donna Powers, Wayne Powers, based on the film written by Troy Kennedy Martin
Cinematography: Wally Pfister
Prod des: Charles Wood
Ed: Richard Francis-Bruce, Christopher Rouse
Mus: John Powell
Main cast: Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Donald Sutherland, Seth Green, Jason Statham, Mos Deaf