Tuesday, 28 May 2024

Thrilling British heist caper makes 'Bank Job' great fun

THE BANK JOB (Rated R)


Though inspired by the true story of an infamous 1971 bank robbery that took place on London’s Baker Street, “The Bank Job” is a highly-charged heist thriller that is not hobbled, at least creatively, by a surfeit of public knowledge of the real crimes.


In the matter of the real bank job, frenzied press reporting quickly came to an end when the British government issued a news blackout. Then as now, speculation is entirely appropriate, given the swirl of corruption, murder and sex scandals that potentially engulfed a large number of players. The intrigue is ripe and fascinating, because the concealed truth is plausibly explosive.


The story offers a field day for inventive writers, and Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, a top British writing team, are little known for their big screen scripts on the American continent, with the exception of “Flushed Away” and “Across the Universe.”


However, their flair for naturalistic dialogue reveals itself in “The Bank Job,” considering that the plot revolves around a rather motley crew of petty criminals who are cleverly seduced into staging a daring robbery than far exceeds the group’s normal ambitions. The ringleader of the so-called “walkie-talkie robbery” gang is used car dealer and part-time hustler Terry Leather (Jason Statham), who at the film’s opening is neck-deep in trouble with some nasty loan sharks.


Wisely having avoided the big league scams, Terry nonetheless falls for the ostensible foolproof offer from old flame Martine (Saffron Burrows), a beautiful model from the old neighborhood who ran into serious trouble when returning to England with a suitcase full of blow.


Martine convinces Terry that the opportunity of a lifetime resides in the underground vault of a Lloyds Bank in central London, where a roomful of safe deposit boxes is certain to yield millions in cash and jewelry. But what Terry and his hapless crew don’t realize is that the boxes also contain a treasure trove of dirty secrets.


Owing her liberty to an MI5 operative, Martine is doing the bidding of agent Tim Everett (Richard Lintern), who is after the contents of one safe deposit box owned by West Indies black power militant Michael X (Peter De Jersey), a vicious slumlord and drug trafficker immune to government prosecution as long as he retains possession of incriminating photos of a member of the royal family.


Once in control of the blackmail goods, the government would be able to shut down the brutal firebrand’s sleazy operation. Terry’s crew, which includes aspiring photographer Kevin (Stephen Campbell Moore) and part-time porn actor Dave Shilling (Daniel Mays), proves to be almost as competent as they are intrepid in carrying out a mission of tunneling under a Chinese take-out joint to reach the bank’s vault.


With a lookout posted on a roof overlooking the bank, the robbers communicate by walkie-talkies, and soon their chatter, often humorous and suggesting marginal ineptitude, is overheard by a ham radio operator who alerts the police.


An element of suspense is introduced by the frantic efforts of the police to locate the crime scene. And though the robbers are successful in their efforts, there’s a palpable feeling they might have been better off if they had been apprehended. As it turns out, some very nasty people become compromised by the loot that includes incriminating documents and diaries.


Soho porn king Lew Vogel (David Suchet) is extremely agitated at the discovery that his ledger of payoffs to corrupt police and government officials is among the stolen items. Assisted by crooked cops on his payroll, Vogel proves far more adept than the authorities at tracking down the criminals.


This turns out to be a painfully ugly scene, as Vogel mercilessly tortures one of the crew in a very disturbing, extremely violent fashion. Since the highest echelons of the British government are touched by the robbery, the stakes become increasingly complicated, with Terry desperate to find the way out, if only because he doesn’t want to lose his wife Wendy (Keeley Hawes) and his two young daughters.


“The Bank Job” is full of subplots, though they are mostly centered on sleaze, corruption, scandal, duplicity, double-dealing, murder and even mayhem. Exciting and suspenseful, this caper fits in nicely with other classic British heist films.


That Jason Statham got his start with director Guy Ritchie in notable British crime stories “Snatch” and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” is good enough reason that he’s the mastermind in “The Bank Job.”


For those who enjoy this type of crime story, “The Bank Job” does a bang-up job of delivering a ton of thrills.


DVD RELEASE UPDATE


Since the movie of the week features London, it’s only fitting to pick the DVD release of “Outlaw,” starring Sean Bean as a former paratrooper who returns from a tour of duty in Iraq to the present day lawless streets of London.


The hero is appalled by what he sees in his homeland, and therefore assembles a group of like-minded souls who settle upon a form of vigilante justice.


“Hitman” is also being released for home entertainment. Timothy Olyphant is a soulless assassin known only as Agent 47. So devoid of emotion, he makes no move on Olga Kurylenko.


It makes no sense at all, because the pretty Olga is set to be a Bond Girl in the next James Bond adventure coming our way in November. Most likely, Olga is showing more flesh here than she ever will as 007’s plaything.


The “Hitman” DVD has an alternate ending, but I doubt it involves Agent 47 and the mysterious Russian girl settling for domesticity.


Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.


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