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Arts & Culture

The Bank Job

Terry (Jason Statham) is not above engaging in illegal activities but he's definitely just a small time con man. Then Martine (Saffron Burrows) shows up with a tempting offer. Terry and Martine grew up in the same neighborhood, and she's come back to her old turf to find some guys she can trust to help her with a job. Her idea: break into a bank vault. She has some inside information that could get them into a vault full of safe deposit boxes. The beauty of this, she says, is that most people keep illicit items in their safe deposit boxes and would be unlikely to tell the police what's missing. Terry and his cohorts see this as a once in a lifetime opportunity to score big. But what Martine doesn't tell them is that the safe deposit boxes also contain some dirty secrets that implicate local criminals, the cops, the British government and even the Royal Family.

The amateur bank robbers of The Bank Job (Lionsgate)

The Bank Job bases its story on a thirty-six year old unresolved crime known in England as the "walkie-talkie bank job." Back in September of 1971, the crime made headline news until the government issued a "D Notice" or gag order preventing any further coverage. The film's co-writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (co-creators of the Brit series The Likely Lads and Porridge as well as of the animated feature Flushed Away ) were fascinated by the crime. With the help of a "deep throat" informer, they have supposedly uncovered some of the reasons behind that sudden press blackout. They claim they have been trying to bring this story to the big screen for years.


Being a Yank, I was unfamiliar with the case and even doubted if it was true (remember the whole Fargo incident in which the Coens' enjoyed passing off their tale as based on a true story?). So I was a little hesitant to buy into it. But apparently at least the foundation of the story is indeed based in fact - the specific details may be less reliable. On this level, the film proves quite entertaining and interesting as the scandal involves high ranking government officials, a black criminal taking the name Michael X in honor of his idol Malcolm X, and some dirty pictures of Princess Margaret. Knowing that something as outrageous as this could be true does give the film some added spice.

But in the hands of Kiwi director Roger Donaldson, The Bank Job never rises above standard formula fare. Donaldson takes a straightforward, almost bland approach to chronicling the heist and the wild twists and turns that followed. The main problem with Donaldson's direction is tone. He begins and ends the film with a seeming desire to create a breezy caper film. But toward the latter stages, there's some brutal violence that seems out of place. Donaldson has been known for jolting an audience with sudden violence (as in his debut Smash Palace ), but here the violence doesn't so much shock as it seems to just be from a different movie.

There's also clumsy plotting. There's an unnecessary back and forth movement in time at the beginning that is not only unnecessary but also not well thought through. And towards the end, there's not much clarity in regards to a couple of deaths and who actually was behind them. Blame for these structural flaws must be shared by Donaldson, the writers and editor John Gilbert; smarter input from any of them could have resolved these issues.


Saffron Burrows plays Martine in The Bank Job (Lionsgate)

Having Saffron Burrows in this London-based crimer brought to mind another film that traversed similar ground with much greater flair - Gangster No. 1. That film (in which Burrows played a gangster's girl friend) embraced its lead character's violent nature to deliver a portrait of the London crime world that was disturbing and vividly alive. But in The Bank Job , Burrows is little more than window dressing as she lures her former friends into a heist that's far more dangerous than they could have imagined. Nothing in this film feels vibrant or fresh, everyone just goes through the motions. The cast, led by Statham is efficient and solid,just not very inspired. There's also an awkwardness to the script because Statham's Terry is made out to be a family man, and yet the film desperately wants to generate some heat between the him and Burrows' Martine. As with the tone of the film, there's uncertainty in how the filmmakers want to present this relationship and in the end it just comes across as flat.

The Bank Job (rated R for violence, language and some sexual content) tells a fresh story in very familiar, even old school terms. While the heist itself holds some surprises, the storytelling doesn't. Considering what the filmmakers had to work with, this should have been better.

Companion viewing: Gangster No. 1, Smash Palace, The Great Train Robbery, Snatch