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The Bank Job (A Movie Review)

Updated: Oct 19, 2022

The Bank Job

The Bank Job


Starring Jason Statham, Saffron Burrows, Richard Lintern, Stephen Campbell Moore, Daniel Mays, James Faulkner, Alki David, Michael Jibson, Georgia Taylor, Don Gallagher, Keeley Hawes, Peter De Jersey and David Suchet.

Screenplay by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais.

Directed by Roger Donaldson.

Distributed by Lionsgate Films.  110 minutes.  Rated R.

Old fashioned in style, subject and execution, The Bank Job may look and feel like the 1970s, but it is one of the better caper dramas of the new millennium.

In fact that slightly anachronistic feel is one of the reasons that the film works so well.  This Brit import goes back to a time of substance over style, grit over glitz.  The movie is better for that sense of groundedness.

Capturing the tail end of the glory days of swinging London — the film takes place a year or two after the breakup of the Beatles but still a few years pre-punk — it is a story in which the dying idealism of the sixties makes bad bedfellows with the old-school crime of the generation before.

You can see this (based on a) true story having a happening old school British cast of Michael Caine, Richard Harris, Malcolm McDowell, Robert Shaw, Peter O’Toole and a couple of sweet-talking birds like Twiggy or Jeanie Shrimpton — if the film were made soon after the heist actually happened.

Thirty some years down the pike, the cast they have assembled is more earthbound (which does allow them to disappear into their roles and era better), but in all other ways The Bank Job feels like an old film stumbled upon at three o’clock in the morning on AMC.

In fact, a double feature of this film and David Fincher’s similarly fact-based early 70s crime drama Zodiac would be a fascinating social and anthropological commentary — nailing the slightly paranoid pre-Watergate era on both sides of the pond.  Both films look at that moment in history when the idealism of the hippie movement sours, when people realized that trusting their government may not be in their best interest.

If that seems like a lot of baggage to dump on a bank heist film, perhaps it is, but The Bank Job courts that gravity.  The movie is just as interested (perhaps more) in the social and political mores of its time which spur the caper as it is in the sterile mechanics of the heist as newer films of its type (such as Entrapment, The Italian Job, the Mission Impossible films).

The actual breaking into the vault of Lloyd’s of London is actually one of the less interesting parts of the movie.  Even the people doing it seemed to recognize that — they ended up taking a nap soon after they made it into the vault rather than grabbing all they can carry as fast as they can and getting the hell out of there.

In fact, a lot of what they do in the break-in seems a little stupid.  They dig a tunnel with jackhammers under a busy street during business hours.  They also communicate with walkie-talkies, giving up details of their crime that anyone could intercept.

Jason Statham (Snatch, The Transporter, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) uses his thuggy minimalism to wonderful effect as Terry Leather — the gang leader who is led into a scheme which is much more dangerous than he ever imagined.  He plays a former small-time thief who has gone straight.  He now has a loving wife, two daughters and a failing dream business selling high-end sports cars.

The temptation to get back to the life of crime is Martine Love (Saffron Burrows) a former-model crush who comes to him with a plan for the perfect crime.  Seems she is dating a man who works in security who let is slip that the alarm at a local branch of Lloyd’s of London will be shut off for a week.

Of course Martine has an angle of her own, and she is being used by the British government in ways even she does not recognize.  Apparently there are some compromising photos of Princess Margaret on an island vacation fling — which were taken by a murderous black militant, who is now using them to blackmail the courts.  Martine is promised if she gets those photos back for the government, she can keep any other loot she gets.

Of course, it all turns out to be much more complicated than anyone imagined.

One box has a ledger which chronicles payoffs of dirty cops in London.  There are also other sexually explicit photos of high-level politicians which are hidden in another safe deposit box, taken by a local madame.  (It is ironic and yet I guess not surprising how hard the politicians work to keep these under wraps.  Sadly, it is still incendiary stuff.  I saw this film in New York City on the very day that New York governor Eliot Spitzer had to resign because of a tryst with an escort).

Therefore, suddenly the gang is being chased down by a whole cadre of gangsters, cops, politicians and militants.  This is where the movie takes flight.

Directed with a crisp, no-nonsense style by veteran Roger Donaldson, The Bank Job is one of the better heist movies to come down the pike in quite some time.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2008  All rights reserved.  Posted: March 12, 2008.

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