A film review by Craig J. Koban

THE BANK JOB jjj
½ 

2008, R, 110 mins.

Jason Statham: Terry / Saffron Burrows: Martine Love / Richard Lintern: Tim Everett / Stephen Campbell Moore: Kevin / David Suchet: Lew Vogel

Directed by Roger Donaldson / Written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais

If one is willing to excuse and look past its horribly generic and bland as vanilla ice cream title, then THE BANK JOB is a smart, wickedly droll, well oiled, and exceptionally efficient heist film.  Instead of lazily floundering around in a sordid haze of star power and vanity gone amok like other recent heist films (like OCEAN’S THIRTEEN and TWELVE, just to name a few), THE BANK JOB knows precisely that the key to this type of genre filmmaking is a sense of intrigue, involvement, and momentum.  

Like the classic, hard-boiled auctioneers of the 70’s, THE BANK JOB has sensibilities that harnesses the pulp eccentricities and flair of Quentin Tarantino and the punchy blimies that populate the work of Guy Ritchie.  Director Roger Donaldson’s crime thriller is tight, taut, spiffy, assured, and savvy as it spins a convoluted web involving robbery, a governmental conspiracy, a porn king, a Malcolm X-type radical, S&M loving politicians, and, among other things, a ménage tois involving a prominent member of royalty.  It also mixes pathos, tension, and dark comedy with confident measure.  

Cheers, Mr. Donaldson. 

The one commendable element to this film certainly is it evocation of great period detail.  Based on an UK true story set in 1971, THE BANK JOB breathes with a considerable amount of verisimilitude, from the lambchopped sideburns, oversized sunglasses, to the trendy and bold clothing, to the set decoration, and so forth.  All of this is crucial for the film’s effectiveness, not to mention that it does a virtuoso job of establishing viewers in its time period.  By appropriating tough as nails films like THE FRENCH CONNECTION, THE BANK JOB has a breezy aura of feeling like a 70’s film, not to mention that it gives you an “in the moment” sensation and starkness that those films from the period evoked. 

For the uninitiated, the film is based on the true tale of a early 70’s robbery – which became known as the “Walkie Talkie Robbery” – of Lloyd’s Bank in Baker Street, London.  This was no ordinary heist.  No arrests were made and no money was recovered.  Not only that, but the story of the robbery was prevented from ever being thoroughly told because of a D-Notice gag order placed on it by the British Government.  As the film’s end title cards indicate, certain pertinent files that have details regarding the crimes and the particulars are locked away until 2054.  Another one also amusingly and ironically states, “Certain characters have had their names altered or changed in order to protect the guilty.” 

That’s primarily why THE BANK JOB has much more urgency and intrigue than other heist films.  It mixes the trappings of well-planned and executed robbery with that of a secondary tale of governmental conspiracy.  Certainly, Donaldson’s film does take creative flights of fancy and is fictitious to a degree, but it’s nevertheless a tantalizing spectacle.  And as for the “conspiracy” itself?  Well, the film starts it off with a sinful bang.  We see a Black Power radical that goes by the name of Michael X (played by Peter De Jersey with a caged animalism and intensity) as he manages to take some incredibly incriminating photos a very well know Princess (never really shown on screen).  As he faces trial and possible jail time for kidnapping, he uses these blackmail pictures as the ace up his sleeve.  The catch is that he has housed them in a safety deposit box hidden at Lloyd’s Bank. 

British Intelligence, for obvious reasons, desperately wants to get their hands on these photos in order for them to never see circulation.  A cagey and crafty agent, Tim Everett (in a performance of Daniel Craigian swagger and coolness by Richard Lintern) decides to hatch the ultimate plan that in no way shape or form will come back to haunt MI5.  Simply put, he will snuggle up close to his mistress, Martine Love (the leggy and sultry Saffron Burrows, well cast) and persuade her to head up a team that will break into the bank, secure the contents of Michael X’s box, and return the contents to MI5.  Martine will be the only one aware of the government’s plan and is to keep her lips sealed.  She has her own motives for agreeing to be a participant:  She will do the job for the government to get some clemency from a past drug offence. 

Realizing that she needs a “proper” team, she first goes for a man to stand beside her on the team to head it up.  In this case it's an old flame name Terry Leather (played by the master of uber-coolness and tough male bravado, Jason Statham), who is running a failing car business.  Even worse is the fact that Terry owes his debt-collectors some serious quid, so he jumps at the chance for the ultimate bank job.  He is not made away of Martine's secret mission within the mission: all he is told is that he and his partners can grab whatever loot they want and keep it all.  Sounds good. 

Terry and Martine then gather the usual British suspects for their big score, which includes one of Terry’s mechanics, and old criminal veteran, a lookout man, and, last but not least, a well-endowed former porn star.  Their plan for entry is fairly ingenious:  Take over a local business that is close to the bank, drill underground until they reach the vault that houses the safety deposit boxes, and rob it from the inside without any sign of forced entry from outside of the vault door.  What’s even sweeter is that the bank vault door is on a special timed lock, which means if any one comes a knocking from the outside, they won’t be able to open it for several hours.  

Needless to say, the actual bank job in THE BANK JOB does not overwhelm the story (the crew manages to succeed rather easily), but the film gets really spicy in its aftermath.  Terry soon discovers that there is more to the job than just money, especially when he discovers the Princess' three-way sex sandwich photos, but the stash they grab goes even further.  They grab photos of a senior MP in compromising positions at a local brothel (compromising = dressed in a leather collar and being whipped).  Things get even hairier when they uncover a ledger in one of the vaults owned by Lew Vogel (David Suchet), a local club owner and pornographer that has details of him paying off police officers.  Things eventually degenerate to the point where Terry and Martine’s gang, MI5, the London PD, Michael X’s crew, and the hoodlums of Vogel’s crime syndicate all intersect for a bloody showdown. 

Screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Fenais (who collaborated on ACROSS THE UNIVERSE) craft a script that was apparently assisted by anonymous sources to help put all of the pieces together.  At best, THE BANK JOB could be aptly labeled as speculative fiction immersed in a story of some quantified facts.  However, the material here is broad and spun together very seamlessly to the point where we are never overwhelmed by it.  There are a lot of characters, interplay, secret alliances, extortion, criminal activity aplenty, etc., but the writers and Donaldson make the right choice by letting everything play out in chronological order an avoid needless and overused stylistic touches, like fractured time shifting and flashbacks.  THE BACK JOB is more systematically enthralling in the way it tells a complex and widespread caper story with simple and defined strokes.  The film is also incredible witty and amusing, but the laughs never feel phony or tacked on, plus there is copious amounts of violence, nudity, and sexual innuendo that’s spliced in for good measure.  Yet, Donaldson rightfully places precedent on characters, dialogue, and mood before blood and gore.   

As good as the writing and direction are here, THE BANK JOB may be overlooked for its standout performances.  Peter de Jersey, as stated, plays ruthlessly cunning with minimal effort and Richard Lintern is great as the MI5 agent that has an emotionally detached charisma and flair.  Saffron Burrows is effectual at balancing low-key sex appeal, elegance, and astuteness.  And then there is Jason Statham, much more known for his action hero performances in the TRANSPORTER series, morphing so stalwartly into those type of rugged, razor sharp, tough guys that he and he alone does so well.  He eases more into a straight role that –despite having some instances of fisticuffs – is more revealing of Statham's abilities as a subtle character actor.  He is the solid and rock steady anchor of this film...and always carries a Steve McQueen level of cool.

THE BANK JOB is an adrenaline fuelled, wham-bang robbery thriller that brushes history and creates its own hyper-kinetic reality.  It has a vivacious energy; impeccable pacing, chiseled and fine tuned performances, and is unpretentious in how it avoids stylistic overkill with its visuals and storytelling devices.  This is a levelheaded and smoothly run engine that rarely has to kick into overdrive to hammer home its effect.  At the heart of its is a underlining true story of complete absorption in how one London bank had its security boxes robbed clean, had no one brought to justice as a result, and – in an intriguing real life twist – had over a hundred people that used the boxes refuse to give details of the contents to help with a police investigation.  All of this makes for a rich tapestry that’s immensely satisfying:  THE BANK JOB is the anti-OCEAN’S heist film.  Instead of getting a smorgasbord of self-aggrandizing Celebes trying to engage us with their shameless swaggering, we get a film that is lovingly old school with its keen focus on story, character, and mood.  It’s a bloody great caper flick.

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