Sunday, March 9, 2008
Pulling a Heist with Martine
THE BANK JOB is a terrific entertainment, a heist movie that makes no bones about what it wants to do and pulls it off extremely well. Maintaining an expert consistency of tone throughout, it pulls off being smart, funny, suspenseful and exciting. It never falls into the trap of being overly convoluted like these things become sometimes and yet the crisp quality of its storytelling never allows it to fall into dumb-dumb land. It’s tough to tell how these things are going to last sometimes but I walked out of it totally satisfied. While it may not be much of a thing to say in March, right now it’s the best film I’ve seen so far in 2008.
With a plot inspired by an actual occurrence in London in 1971, Jason Statham plays Terry Leather, a small-time bookie and car dealer in desperate need of money to pay off some mobsters coming after him. Approached by ex-girlfriend Martine Love (Saffron Burrows) with a unique idea for a bank heist, he brings in several mates who are also on a small-time level to work the job with them. What none of the men are aware of is that she has recently been arrested by Mi5 on a drug charge and the whole thing is merely a plot she has been roped into engineering to recover what are believed to be incriminating sex photos of a member of the Royal Family.
Like it should, THE BANK JOB assembles its pieces in an appropriate amount of time then moves on to the heist and never looks back. The setup has an obvious resemblance to SMALL TIME CROOKS, but even when things get mildly funny it’s never enough to rob it of its credibility so it’s not too much of a shift in tone when things become more serious in its second half. Filled with unique and interesting characters, it’s more of a thriller than an action movie and remains gripping throughout, never becoming dull. I can believe there’s a few heist movie fans out there who have been waiting for one that pulls it off as well as this one does. The early seventies-setting, pulled off in a matter-of-fact fashion, manages to be convincing yet never overwhelms the story.
Jason Statham is excellent in the lead and while it’s not really a Statham vehicle like the TRANSPORTER movies, he’s ideal as the leader of this group and proves that he’s one of a few really believable tough guys working today. I know I’ve seen Saffron Burrows in something before, not that I can remember offhand what it is, but she’s never made an impression on me before like she does here. Beautiful, enigmatic, she resembles Charlotte Rampling but very much has her own things going on. As the wonderfully-named Martine Love (actually, there are a lot of really good character names throughout) she’s a femme fatale who isn’t fully bad, she’s just scared and fearful of her own precarious situation. It’s a tricky character and one that another movie would possibly insist on shading her as the bad girl, but THE BANK JOB knows that there’s more to its cast of characters than by making things so simple. The whole film is excellently cast down to its smallest roles, with some of the other standouts being Daniel Mays as Dave Shilling, the member of the group who has dabbled in porn acting, Keeley Hawes as Statham’s wife, whose resemblance to Susan George makes her ideal casting for the period and David Suchet as the porn kingpin the gang manages to unwisely cross.
THE BANK JOB sets up what it wants to do and sticks with it, refreshingly treating its audience with intelligence and never succumbing to a dumb action climax simply because that’s what is expected these days. That’s not to say it’s not exciting—the way the tension ratchets up as the characters get deeper and deeper works very well and is not boring for a second. It’s easily director Roger Donaldson’s best film since NO WAY OUT back in 1987. How it holds up over time is something I’ll have to wait to find out. For now, it’s very much an extremely entertaining genre piece. We should always be so lucky.