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The Good Thief (A Movie Review)

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

The Good Thief

The Good Thief


Starring Nick Nolte, Tcheky Karyo, Nutsa Kukhianidze, Said Taghmaoui, Gérard Darmon, Marc Lavoine,  Emir Kusturica, Ouassani Embarek,  Michael Polish, Mark Polish, James Quattrochi, Patricia Kell, Sarah Bridges and Ralph Fiennes.

Screenplay by Neil Jordan.

Directed by Neil Jordan.

Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures.  109  minutes.  Rated R.

The full weight of age and self-abuse weigh in Nick Nolte’s eyes, face and body as a past-his-prime gambler-con man who is seeing out his hard knock life in the seamier areas of Nice, on the French Riviera.  His character, Bob Montagnet, is a heroin addict (Nolte claimed to have used the drug to get the true nature of the character) and in the middle of a spiraling losing streak.  But, Bob is genuinely a good man, so much so that a French policeman (Tcheky Karyo) wants to stop Bob from getting involved in a caper to rob a casino in Monte Carlo, not just to save the casino… but to save Bob from himself.

Bob does get talked into heading up the caper, and he goes through a harrowing detoxification from the drugs.  A sober Bob becomes something of an anomaly… a hardened criminal type with a twelve-step mentality.  He sees a fellow lost soul in a seventeen-year-old Russian runaway turned stripper.  First time actress Nutsa Kukhianidze is fantastic as Anne, perhaps the most trusting (or naive) prostitute in film history.  It’s a nice detail (and one that goes totally against the Hollywood grain) that even though the girl repeatedly throws herself at the hardened old crook, Bob’s feelings towards her seem parental, or those of a mentor, rather than sexual.

What follows is a series of crosses and double-crosses and quirky accessories (sometimes excessively quirky, one of the people on the job has had a sex change, but there seems no real good reason for that in the story other than to make him afraid of spiders.)  Bob runs across art forgers, eccentric security people, jealous lovers, shady club owners, criminal identical twins and loan sharks as the caper whiplashes back and forth.

Part of the fun of the film is that in the end, whether or not the robbery is successfully completed almost becomes of secondary importance.  The supporting cast (particularly Karyo and Kukhianidze) is terrific, but the film is really a showcase for Nolte.  He doesn’t disappoint, delivering his best performance since Affliction (1997).

The Good Thief is also further proof that writer/director Neil Jordan should stay far from Hollywood.  In Europe, he has made such sparse classics as The Crying Game and Mona Lisa, but everytime Hollywood tries to tame him it ends up with overblown hokum like Interview With the Vampire, In Dreams and High Spirits.  The Good Thief is a tonic for Jordan’s… and Nolte’s… careers and more importantly, it’s a good, bracing adventure picture.  (04/03)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2003  All rights reserved. Posted: May 18, 2003.

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