Thursday 17 July 2008

The Bank Job (2008)

Thursday 17 July 2008
Director: Roger Donaldson
Writers: Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais

Cast: Jason Statham (Terry Leather), Saffron Burrows (Martine Love), Richard Lintern (Tim Everett), Stephen Campbell Moore (Kevin Swain), James Faulkner (Guy Singer), Craig Fairbrass (Nick Barton), Daniel Mays (Dave Schilling), Alki David (Bambas), Michael Jibson (Eddie Burton), David Suchet (Lew Vogel), Peter Bowles (Miles Urquhart), Peter de Jersey (Michael X) & Keeley Hawes (Wendy Leather)

A petty thief is offered the chance to rob a bank to pay-off his debt, unaware he's a pawn in a government plot to retrieve sensitive, inflammatory material...

The ingredients for the archetypal British caper movie: London, cockneys, posh totty, a period setting, and ideally based on a true story. The Bank Job, from Aussie director Roger Donaldson and British writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, fits that bill perfectly -- arriving fully-formed and eager to entertain. It's not breaking new ground, but it's an effective and likeable romp with more bite than you expect...

There's an intriguing mix of behind-the-scenes talent here, too. Clement and La Frenais are best-known for penning sitcoms Porridge, The Likely Lads and Auf Wiedersein, Pet. They also wrote The Commitments ('91) for the silver screen, although recent multiplex forays have been the less highbrow Goal! and CGI animation Flushed Away. Meanwhile, Donaldson's filmography is one of slow improvement: from popular fluff Cocktail ('88), brainless pap Species ('95), to intelligent real-life drama Thirteen Days ('00).

It's 1971 and Jason Statham (Guy Ritchie's muse who became a US action hero with The Transporter) plays Terry Leather, a London car dealer given the chance to pay-off his business debts by robbing Lloyd's Bank in Baker Street. The proposition is poured into his ear by old flame Martine Love (Saffron Burrows), who's being blackmailed by MI5 to find someone "willing" to steal a safe deposit box belonging to black militant villain Michael X (Peter de Jersey). Said box allegedly contains compromising photos of a Royal Princess, that Mr. X often uses as leverage to avoid jail.

As per genre convention, Terry gathers an assortment of petty criminal "mates" to pull off the job, and the gang rent a nearby shop so they can dig a tunnel to the vault. Folded into the plot for troublesome fallout is club owner Lew Vogel (Poirot's David Suchet), a gangster who has a ledger in the bank detailing payments he's made to bent coppers, and a group of MPs who realize photos of them indulging in S&M at a brothel are amongst the Lloyd's loot.

Strangely for a robbery-themed movie, The Bank Job only really becomes compelling once the titular job is over, as it's a fairly routine and unremarkable story until that point. But, having secured the goods, the consequences to the raid is where the real interest lies. Unfortunately, it's also accompanied by a dip into darker territory (including a bit of torture) that sits uneasily with the light-hearted beginning, before jumping back to a breezier temperament for the climax. Still, while the tone's inconsistent, it's never boring and there are a few nailbiting incidents to keep you hooked.

It also helps that The Bank Job is based on a real crime, although a quick internet search reveals there are enough differences, suppositions and unproven moments for the film's "true story" tagline to perhaps read "inspired by". But, yes, there was a genuine subterranean robbery of Lloyd's Baker Street branch back in '71, followed by a government "D-Notice" that silenced the media, and rumours of a royal scandal surfaced from there.

While it resembles an admittedly slick TV drama at times, there's enough unexpected complexity and chemistry to make this an enjoyable watch. For UK viewers, there's added fun in spotting famous faces: Keeley Hawes has a small role as Statham's in-the-dark wife, her Ashes To Ashes co-star Stephen Campbell Moore also appears, a typecast Craig Fairbrass prowls around as a goon, and Peter Bowles lends his ratty moustache to stiff Miles Urquhart.

The '70s aesthetic (in all its brown-yellow grubbiness) is recreated very well, and Statham always looks more comfortable in British ensembles, giving a likeable performance as the nice-guy crook. I'm no fan of the often-wooden Burrows, but she does well as Statham's icy ex, Suchet impresses as the oily porn baron, and the ebb and flow of the story holds your interest and pulls its sub-plots together nicely.

Overall, it's a bit forgettable, unbalanced and not hugely cinematic, but the array of enjoyable performances and a compelling storyline ensures The Bank Job passes the time very comfortably. There's ample room for improvement, but it's cleverer than you expect despite sticking to established rules and adhering to formula. An old-fashioned caper flick that gets the job done.

111 minutes