Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Bank Job

A fine British caper film with gorgeous knockers in the first frame, great suspense and political scandal, brutal mobsters and a solid cast? Sign me up. The Bank Job ain't a Guy Ritchie film but it could have been; it's apparently based on events that no one will verify, so if the guy who gave us Bullet Tooth Tony did it, we'd scorn him for coming up with it. The filmmakers claim this is close to the real story, which was put on D-Notice (a gag order) by the government until recently.
The movie begins in the Caribbean, where a beautiful young lady is clandestinely photographed in an orgy with several local gentlemen of a darker complexion. Shortly thereafter, MI5 is in a quandary- they want to prosecute drug kingpin and militant Michael X, but the photos are of a member of the Royal family, and he threatens to release them. What a spot of bother. What's there to do? Well, we know he's got them in Lloyd's of London... but who'd be mad enough to rob it?
Enter Martine (Saffron Burrows), who's been nicked for smuggling heroin; MI5 makes her a deal, to use her connections to get the contents of one Safety Deposit Box No.118, and all is forgiven. She just happens to have a ruggedly handsome ex-boyfriend named Terry (Jason Statham) who runs a shady used car dealership, but before his car salesman days he knew his way around a heist, and had a little black book in his head full of contacts of an unsavory nature. Or savory nature, if you need a bank knocked over. Terry's got mob thugs smashing his Jaguar XKE's because he can't pay a heavy vig- so like Martine, he's desperate, and takes the job.


They put together a team of petty criminals ranging from Eddie the mechanic as lookout, to Bambas and Guy, who've talents such as rigging infernal lances to cut through steel and tunnelling. They begin work in a building next to the bank, and the heist is on. Directed by Roger Donaldson, whose hit-or-miss career includes turds like Cadillac Man and gems like No Way Out, the film is perfectly serviceable in the manner of classic heist films like The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, or even Rififi. There's even a bit of dry British humor that reminded me of The Lavender Hill Mob and The Italian Job (1969). The tension is high, a bobby keeps getting nosy, and their radio transmissions are picked up by a local ham radio operator. They're into the vault, and faced with piles of wealth. And then it all goes pear-shaped.

Lloyd's of London was really robbed in 1971, and the criminals' radios were picked up by a ham radio anorak who notified the police. But the crooks were never caught, and from hereon in, the story tries to tell us why. Martine nabs the contents of Box 118, and they split up the rest of the cash, bonds and jewelry, but not before her compatriots get suspicious. And it's not just the Royal girl in flagrante delicto that's in the photographs they find: Politicians at a pricey brothel getting whipped with their naughty bits showing. And more dangerously, the local mob kingpin's little black book of payoffs to high-ranking officials in law enforcement.

When the mob realizes they've been hit, all hell breaks loose. If you've seen The Krays and Gangster No.1, you'll be prepared for the brutality of Vogel the mob boss. He has uses for a sandblaster that will leave you chills for long after the film is over. Can Martine and Terry find an angle to play and keep themselves alive? The ending is a bit too convenient, but it's exciting enough that I was satisfied. The film manages to take a distasteful premise and keep it discreet enough that we're tantalized without feeling titillated. And since they claim the photos are of Princess Margaret, all she can do is spin in her grave, if one more rumor of a liaison would upset her.

The Bank Job is a solid thriller and reminds us that Jason Statham can perform just fine outside of over-the-top stuff like Crank and The Transporter. As much as I enjoy great trash like The Transporter, he'll always be Turkish to me, and seeing him run a heist was satisfying. The rest of the cast is excellent, from the arrogant Michael X to the brutal Vogel. Perhaps it needed a showier title, as if Guy Ritchie had directed it, to get the attention it deserved. Catch it on a rental, it's satisfying entertainment.

4 naughty pictures out of 5

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