Release Date: March 7
Director: Roger Donaldson
Writer: Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais
Cinematographer: Michael Coulter
Starring: Jason Statham, Saffron Burrows, Stephen Campbell Moore
Studio/Run Time: Lionsgate, 110 mins.
The heist film is a wonderful cinematic sub-genre. It’s a rigid one, with constant requirements (tension, temporal mastery, cleverness, humor), but combined with the right heist, the results are memorable—sublime, even. The great examples are serious (The Killing, Rififi), slightly cerebral (Bob le Flambeur and remake The Good Thief) or funny (Big Deal on Madonna Street, but not remake Welcome to Collinwood).
The Bank Job tries to reside in all three corners at once. Subsequently, it is neither great nor sublime. But much like a few other robbery exploits starring Jason Statham, it flies by in true popcorn movie fashion.
The complicated plot is based on a real sequence of events, for whatever that’s worth. Terry (Statham), a car dealer in hock to the mob, is approached by old friend Martine (Saffron Burrows) about robbing a bank. She’s in hock to a British intelligence agent aiming to recover incriminating photos of a Royal in compromising positions so he can put Michael X (Peter De Jersey), a black activist, behind bars. There’s also a subplot involving a ruthless pornographer and corrupt cops. Needless to say, it’s easy to see how the seams threaten to burst throughout.
“Protect the Royals” is the same impulse that gave us Jack the Ripper, but here, the result is considerably more mundane. Director Roger Donaldson (who seems to have peaked with Thirteen Days) barely keeps things under control in the first hour, but slowly teases the material into entertaining shape. Once the heist really begins it’s hard not to be hanging at least partially on the hook, even though you’ve probably seen most of this stuff before. And as the film builds to a three-way climax, it’s almost gripping.
Donaldson does struggle with racial text. Efforts by British Intelligence to suppress black activists seem justified as the film’s speaking black characters rally around an amoral psychopath. Any implied racism seems unintended, but no more palatable because of it.
Statham tries to make the jump to leading man that he failed at in Guy Ritchie’s Revolver, but with only slightly more success this time. He presents an empathetic figure even when engaged in dodgy dealings, but he’s also Statham, which makes his performance impossible to fully accept. Alongside him, Burrows is fine, though difficult to watch. If a nozzle appeared on the back of her neck, you’d feel obliged to attach an air hose and re-inflate her.
The rest of the supporting cast members frequently go a bit off the rails, but their goofy enthusiasm isn’t entirely out of place. The film is already recreating the swinging ’70s and offering the audience a chance to cheer when slightly perverse Members of Parliament are made to sweat. Weather a couple scenes of torture, enjoy the twists, don’t expect The Bank Job to end up on any year-end lists, and everything will be fine.