United Kingdom, 2008
Directed By: Roger Donaldson
Written By: Dick Clement & Ian Lafrenais
Starring: Jason Statham, Saffron Burrows
Running Time: 110 minutes
Rated R for sexual content, nudity, violence and language
This review was originally published March 8th, 2008.
A heist film starring Jason Statham with the words ‘The’ and ‘Job’ in the title? The British actor certainly has a type, and while this film shares a lot of superficial similarities with 2003’s The Italian Job, it differs in nearly every other respect. Where Italian was a remake and a light popcorn diversion (essentially serving as a $60 million Mini Cooper commercial),Bank is based on a true story and has a surprisingly dark undercurrent to it.
It’s 1971, and the royal princess is up to a bit of ‘skullduggery,’ getting compromising photos of herself taken in the process. A black power gangster (with the clever name Michael X) decides to use the pictures to run roughshod over the British legal system, threatening to publish the compromising photos should he ever be charged with anything. The British government, tired of being blackmailed, decides to ‘unofficially’ hire some small time criminals to get the pictures back. Anything else they find in the vault is theirs to keep.
Jason Statham plays the lead heister, Terry Leather, who owns a specialty car lot (the kind where the odometers are ‘specially’ turned backwards). He assembles the crew, which includes the stereotypical assortment of colorful characters we’ve come to expect from heist films since Ocean’s 11 (the refined con artist, the belligerent ethnic specialist, the bumbling comic relief, the femme fatale, they’re all here). Unlike Ocean’s 11, however , none of them are particularly memorable. Statham charms as the lovable British smartass, but then again that’s the only character he’s ever played.
The Bank Job really isn’t about the characters, although it’s not about the robbery either. Unlike other heist flicks, the titular job occurs midway through the film, leaving the rest of the runtime to sort out the collateral damage. While it’s a marginal lead, this is where The Bank Job distances itself from its genre companions. Governmental spooks, corrupt politicians, porn king extortionists, and the robbers themselves all create a perfect storm of conflict and drama as everyone jockeys for position. In sharp contrast to the relative levity of the heist, things take a decidedly darker tone here. Torture, assassination, and even death by machete enter the picture, and the stock “everyone gets away” ending is not in attendance. Raising the stakes like this ups the tension for the audience, as you’re never completely sure who is going to live and who is going to die. The climax, while tied with a little too neat of a bow, is a satisfying end to an engaging film.
6 or 7 postscripts (possibly the most I’ve ever seen) are appended to the film, telling you where this character is and what happened to that one, but since a governmental gag order was placed over the entire affair, the accuracy of the ‘based on a true story’ tag is up for grabs. Perhaps this is the best kind of real life story to put on film, though – the kind where you can fudge the details and no one can challenge you on it.