dir: Roger Donaldson
[img_assist|nid=90|title=The Bank Job|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=320|height=475]
I loves me a good heist movie, I does. Big fan of heist movies. Probably one of my favourite genres, since my tolerance for vampire movies, zombie movies and Merchant Ivory productions has waned.
Who am I kidding, I still love that lace doily, maiden aunt with scones Merchant Ivory shit.
The Bank Job, you might think, is something of a heist movie. But it has the added bonus of allegedly being based on a true story. As well!
As far as I’m concerned, this is based on a true story the way 10,000 BC, Pearl Harbor and Transformers were based on true stories. Sure there were woolly mammoths building the pyramids. Sure giant robots travelled to our planet searching for Rubik’s cubes. Sure, Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Kate Beckinsale fought the Japanese and won with their dignity and 40s hairstyles intact in a love triangle story that echoes throughout the ages..
So, to reiterate, I believe the “true” elements in The Bank Job involve the fact that there is a place called London, and it is populated by people, some of whom are British. And there was a calendar year called 1971.
Other than that, I don’t even believe there was such a time and place as the so-called 70s, at least not as represented here. And a Princess Margaret? Who ever heard of such a being?
Princess Diaries I’ve heard of. Princess Mary ‘Map of Tassie’ of Denmark I’ve heard of. Princess Margaret? Surely that’s made up, just like Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco. Everyone knows Monaco never existed: it’s just a film set constructed somewhere at Pinewood Studios. Surely.
If I’m not mistaken, and I often am, Roger Donaldson made two films that I have enjoyed watching repeatedly: Thirteen Days and The World’s Fastest Indian. The latter I enjoyed immensely even against every fibre of my being urging me to hate any flick that has Sir Anthony Hopkins in any role. Even if I know that he’s hired the DVD of a movie from his local Blockburster, I want to hate the film. Even if he didn’t watch most of it because he fell asleep in his chair and dribbled onto his slippers after only 20 minutes, it still irks and vexes me greatly.
Donaldson also has a bunch of other dogs and duds on his resume, like Cocktail and Species, so you can’t set too much stock in the recent past or the present future. He brings a level of studied superfluousness to The Bank Job which is supposed to keep the tone light and ticking over rather than tense and agonising, and rarely approaches anything close to substance.
Tense and agonising is how I like my heist movies. I like it when the audience’s nerves are stretched taut to the breaking point, and then have them snap and fly all over the place smashing the good china and taking people’s eyes out. Bank Job doesn’t really go for tense: it goes for the funny bone on the most part, and for the “can you believe this shit?” factor. I can’t really speak as to the believability of what occurred compared to actual events in this planet’s history, but I can’t say that it really bugged me that much.
The reason is because the set-up is just so damn intriguing. Martine, a former model (Saffron Burrows, who has that constant hungry, haunted look on her face) gets busted bringing drugs into the UK. A violent black militant calling himself Michael X (Peter de Jersey) is supposed to be on trial for serious crimes, but the Crown seems powerless to prosecute him due to a powerful ace up his sleeve. Terry, a petty crim turned used car salesman in serious debt (Jason Statham), is approached by Martine, who seems to be working for MI-5, about a once in a lifetime opportunity to rip-off a Lloyds Bank on the corner of Baker and Marylebone Streets in London.
Statham doesn’t play the part as the perpetually cranky character that has typified his recent Hollywood output; he’s supposed to be a charming and sympathetic family man. It’s hard to tell the difference, except he’s not beating the crap out of as many people and he smiles more. A smile on Statham’s face seems out of place. It looks like lace gloves on a boxer’s fists. Thankfully at least we don’t have to listen to the awful American accents he uses.
He and a crew of other petty crims put the caper together, without any clue as to who is really pulling the strings or why. They just think they have a thief’s wet dream of cracking open the bank’s safe deposit boxes with a little sweat and little risk. Though Terry, we can tell from the angry expression on his face, suspects something early on.
These elements are handled okay, if superficially. It’s the details, for my money, that make or break a heist flick. Here, the facts of the case, and the stranger than fiction elements are meant to trump the nitty-gritty, which makes it look like a television rather than cinematic treatment.
Throw into the mix some corrupt cops, the local sleaze merchant (David Suchet), a shortwave ham operator with too much time on his hands, an MI-5 spook undercover as Patty Hearst, and politicians who cavort openly with ladies of the night and whatever the plural of dominatrix is, and a certain female royal, who died in 2002, known for her hussy ways and Caribbean partying, and you have a potent mix for a heist-turned-farce, which is what this flick becomes.
In the end, I don’t know if the story is remotely true, as I suspect 90 per cent is bullshit. But the truth remains that a robbery did occur, and the government did issue a D-notice quashing any further stories from appearing in the papers. Most telling is the fact that the file on Michael X has been designated secret for reasons of national security until 2054. In other words we’re not going to know what the hell was really going on for another 46 years. I very much doubt that I’m going to be around to find out what the hell the deal was. And if I am still around, by some miracle of science, and in direct contradiction of God’s will, then I doubt I’ll be in any position to care.
Still, considering that everyone involved will have been dead a long while, it will be something of a historical curio, just like this movie. It’s a curio, amusing in and of itself, but kind of useless like most knick-knacks.
Statham may possess the acting chops for a lead role that doesn’t rely on him beating the crap out of people, but he certainly doesn’t really display them here. Almost everyone else gives a functional performance as opposed to an actually decent one. The pace is kept up and breezy, so it rarely drags, except in sections where Terry is arguing with his long-suffering wife and having to emote, which is painful to watch.
Even more painful to watch is Saffron Burrows, who looks like she’s afraid that her face is going to split open over her cheek bones if she forms a facial expression. What happened to this woman? She used to look human and nice back in the day. Now, I dunno, she looks like a lonely piranha.
Statham knows which side of his bread is buttered on, and therefore has to have a big fight finish where he beats the crap out of a few people in a highly implausible climax that is less believable than the excuses I offer to my beloved when I stagger home drunk some nights: “The government forced me to have five more pints; aliens kidnapped me and sprayed me with rum after gang-probing me”. The film decreases in plausibility as it goes on, and by the time the end comes, I was mostly glad it was over, rather than wondering about how true any of it was.
Only a fool looks to films for an accurate history lesson, so even all these alleged touchstones of truth should be covered in pinches of salt prior to consumption. Overall, though, I’d say it wasn’t a completely horrible way to spend 110 minutes.
Ringing recommendation indeed.
6 expressions of surprise over finding out that Princess Margaret was such a party girl out of 10
“The names have been changed to protect the guilty” – The Bank Job.