02 April 2008

The Bank Job

It’s a credit to the filmmakers that “The Bank Job” is not a three hour film. It could have been. It’s a marvel that they were able to distill so many plots into just under two hours. With that much plot, though, there’s little room for anything else.
The movie is supposedly based on a true story, but the facts are a bit hazy; there’s clearly lots of conjecture here. Rather the point is to try to explain away the mystery surrounding one of the biggest bank robberies in history amidst an atmosphere of vice and corruption in the 1970s.
The basic premise is this: a member of the royal family is photographed in a compromising situation on a Caribbean island, and the photo ends up in the hands of a black revolutionary figure. He uses it as leverage to get out of any legal trouble he runs into.
The government is tired of his evasions, and so it secretly contracts a group of thieves to rob the bank and unknowingly recover the photograph. Meanwhile, it also sends a spy into the black revolutionary gang to try to obtain any copies that might exist.
Unfortunately for the thieves, the robbery also draws the ire of the regular London police who don’t know of the government’s plan, a pornography magnate who has to recover evidence of his bribing other London cops, and other government officials whose photos were taken in compromising situations by a conniving brothel owner.
It’s a large amount of characters to keep track of, and with so many different allegiances, particularly among the various government and law enforcement types, it can get a bit confusing. Luckily director Roger Donaldson is up to the task, imbuing the narrative with all the certainty of a Scorsese film.
However, by the time all the plot devices are in place and the story is running at full speed, there’s no time left for character development, or reflection of any other kind. The story’s entertaining enough, but the weight of it crushes everything else in its path.
Still, there’s an interesting style here, with a muted color palate trying to reflect memorable 70s films. It would have been easy to try to make an intricate Tarantino-esque odyssey with lots of quick shots and frenetic visuals, but Donaldson wisely keeps things more conventional. It’s more like “Rififi” than “Reservoir Dogs.”
The cast is led by perennial British tough guy Jason Statham, who thankfully shows more humanity than in the truly awful “The Transporter.” He doesn’t have the greatest range, but his previous work in Guy Ritchie movies serves him well here. The rest of the cast is capable enough, and because the movie’s all plot, they never have to dip deep into the well of emotion beyond anger or excitement.
Now that I think about it, the whole movie is a little like a Guy Ritchie film. It’s essentially a 70s “fact-based” version of “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels,” which has its merits. Thankfully the filmmakers here seem to have a better handle on their style, and a better sense of purpose.

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