Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Good Thief

I hadn't seen The Good Thief in many years when I stumbled across it on Netflix recently.  My recollection of it was pretty foggy; I recalled a distinctly European vibe and being surprised that Nick Nolte was capable of entertaining me without a mug shot.  As it turns out, The Good Thief is a remake of a Melville noir, Bob le Flambeur.  I haven't seen that yet, but that trivia nugget was enough to pique my curiosity.  Did I like this film so long ago because Nick Nolte was awesome, or because there was a heavy dose of French cool in the story?  Not that it matters, I suppose, as long as it's good.

The plot of The Good Thief is nothing new, even considering the fact that this is a remake.  Bob (Nick Nolte) is a retired thief that has given up the fast-paced life of criminal intrigue for a dull retirement, filled with needle drugs and compulsive gambling.  But he was a really good thief, even if he has been arrested six times; he's kind of like a Danny Ocean with bad habits, if that clarifies things at all. 
This is Bob's Eleven Seven
Even though he has been out of the game for years, his police nemesis, Roger (Tchéky Karyo), has made a habt of checking in on Bob, to keep him on the straight and narrow.  But when Bob inevitably gambles his last dime (or ruble or franc or whatever) away, he is desperate enough to entertain an impossible robbery.  All he needs is the right crew and a plan.  It could be a very cut-and-dry plot, if not for the inclusion of one x-factor: a girl.

The Good Thief is not the sort of move that is going to have overwhelming performances.  For the most part, the cast is comprised of little-known actors and the director leans toward subtler forms of expression.  That said, this is easily one of the best performances of Nick Nolte's career.  He is perfectly aged for the role of the seasoned clever guy who has been through rough times.  Hell, his glass-shards-in-gravel voice alone would highlight the film, but Nolte also managed to make excellent use of his nonverbal scenes.  I get why he wasn't nominated for an Oscar for this (it was a relatively tough year), but he is damn good here. 
Doesn't he look like someone who's been in prison six times?
The rest of the cast is less impressive.  Nutsa Kukhianidze was okay as the lost and manipulative Anne, but I think a role this manipulative could have been done better.  Still, she managed to convey illicit sexuality and heartbreaking innocence at the same time, so I can't legitimately claim that she did a bad job.  
Mostly because lingerie doesn't hide nipples
was solid as the obsessive cop; I liked that he was not clearly outsmarted by Bob, but  he didn't really have much of a personality to counter the charm of Nolte's Bob.  , , , and were fine is basic-level roles.  Embarek was not very impressive, but his Judas-esque part didn't require much from him.  Oh, and for some reason, Ralph Fiennes plays an uncredited role as a shady art dealer.  He was pretty good; I don't know why he was left uncredited, since he was featured in the trailers.
"You think that's weird?  Look at the painting I'm holding!"

directed The Good Thief, and it is clear that he was interested in trying some new ideas.  The cinematography is, as a whole, unimpressive.  It does, however, have some odd moments where the frame rate seems to drop well below that standard 24fps.  It's like Jordan is trying to convey a slow passage of time, but his method is the exact opposite film technique that would result in slow-motion.  I didn't like it, but it was an interesting (if choppy) try.  Aside from that, there are not a lot of surprises here, from a direction standpoint.  Jordan gets an excellent performance from his lead actor, while the rest of the cast is fairly sketchy. 
Nobody (except possibly Franco-Judas) was bad, but most of the characters felt underdeveloped and devoid of personality. 

The strange thing about The Good Thief is that it is, at its core, a heist movie.  Despite that, the main character isn't really involved in the heist.  That can work (as in Ocean's Eleven), but you really need to invest in the theft and not the character at that point.  That doesn't happen here.  Not only is the audience primarily interested in Nolte's character, but so is the camera; we follow Bob gambling while the heist is taking place.  That should plainly say something about the story, but I don't think it is conveyed well in this movie.
Also lacking: fashion

There is plenty to enjoy with The Good Thief, though.  Nolte was surprisingly charming in the gruffest manner possible.  I liked the relationship between Bob and Anne, even if it was all sorts of shades of grey.  I also enjoyed the friendly rivalry between Bob and Roger; it is an under-used movie subplot, and was one fun character (the cop) away from being fantastic. 
To Nolte: "Do you want to do all the work in this scene?"
The idea behind the heist is a clever execution of feints and counter-feints.  Unfortunately, the movie is a little under-paced and the ending --- while clever --- is more cerebral than emotional or sensational.  In other words, it's cute, but I was expecting more.