Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Bank Job

I love that this movie poster states that this film is based on a true story.  Most of the time, when a movie makes that claim, the story is fairly well known.  Apollo 13, for instance, told a well publicized story.  Other times, the story is less well known, but still based on fact.  Tom Horn tells the story of...well, Tom Horn, an old West gunman/assassin.  He's not very famous, but when the movie claimed to be based on his life, the veracity of the claim could be researched.  The Bank Job, though, is something else entirely.  Supposedly based on the 1971 Baker Street robbery in London, the reality/fiction ratio of this film seems to be skewed toward the latter.  Aside from the bare bones facts of the case (there was a bank robbery), just about everything else about this movie appears to be fictionalized.  Not that that's a bad thing, mind you.

As the title suggests, this is a heist flick.  I usually enjoy heist movies because they make you root for the bad guys and the thieves are usually very clever and charismatic.  The heist movie often takes one of two forms; it either focuses on the heist itself (the preparation and execution, a la The Italian Job (2003) and Inside Man) or it focuses on the escape (like Heist, Quick Change, and The Killing).  However, this is an unusual heist flick because its focus is less on those aspects of the crime and instead focuses on the trouble the loot will bring these characters.

Jason Statham stars as a small-time thug that has gone (more or less) legit as a husband, father, and car salesman.  He is approached by an old flame, Martine (Saffron Burrows), with a fully researched criminal proposition.  All Statham needs to do is put together a crew and actually go through with the plot.  Wanting to get ahead of life for a change, Statham accepts.  Burrows and Statham recruit two of their childhood friends, played by Stephen Campbell Moore and Daniel Mays, to help with the heist.  A few others play important roles to the plot, but the story is primarily about this group of friends.

There are a lot of secondary stories in play, though. Martine was apparently busted smuggling heroin into England.  She was working with MI5 (the British Secret Service) to set up Statham and company.  Why would MI5 want a low-level group of crooks to break into a bank?  Good question.  A paparazzi had taken pictures of Britain's Princess Margaret involved in a threesome.  Okay, that's kind of awkward for the Crown.  The photographer did not, however, publish the picture for profit.  Instead, the pictures found their way to the militant black revolutionary Michael X (whose appearance is uncannily reproduced by Peter de Jersey), who used the pictures as a "Get Out of Jail Free" card.  Michael X kept his photos in a safety deposit box in the bank in question.  Unfortunately, other important people kept important things in the same bank.  The madame of a prestigious S & M club had secretly been photographing several members of Parliament and other high ranking officials getting the whips and chains treatment; she kept her photos safe in a safety deposit box at the bank.  A local gangster kept a ledger of his payoffs to corrupt police officials in the same bank in --- you guessed it --- a safety deposit box.  So, MI5 wants the naughty pictures of their Princess, but does not want to break the law to get them.  Instead, they facilitate a crime on behalf of the royal character, planning to allow local police to capture the criminals that MI5 put up to the job.

Wow.  It's just that easy!  If I ever need to over-complicate a smash-and-grab heist, I now have a blueprint to show me how.  Despite the ridiculousness of the plot, this movie is still entertaining.  It is so customary for heist movie criminals to be smarter than the viewer that having amateurs do the work in this film is refreshing.  Statham proves once again that he does his best acting in ensemble casts and the rest of the cast doesn't screw up.  Really, the star of this film is the interwoven plot and director Roger Donaldson does a good job of tying itself together.  There is the issue of the film's truthiness, though; if you research the actual robbery, you will find a lot of assumptions being made with this script, as well as some outright inventions (like Martine's character).  Does that make this a bad movie?  No, but learning that takes some of the fun out of it.

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