The Theory of Chaos

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Full review behind the jump

The Bank Job

: Roger Donaldson
: Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais
: Charles Roven, Steve Chasman
: Jason Statham, Saffron Burrows, Stephen Campbell Moore, Daniel Mays, James Faulkner, Alki David, Michael Jibson, Georgia Taylor, Richard Lintern, Peter Bowles, Alistair Petrie, Hattie Morahan, Keeley Hawes, Gerard Horan, David Suchet, Peter De Jersey

There’s the kind of cool that flaunts itself, and is transitory. Then there’s the authentic cool, the kind you might miss on first glance but is both self-aware and self-assured, and survives the fickle season to make a lasting impression.
The Bank Job is the authentic kind of cool, because while it adopts the slang and dress of working-class England in the 70’s, it knows that what it is actually doing from within that costume is making a true film noir.

It’s about a robbery, and the fate of the robbers. Okay. But fate in a true film noir is about more than who gets caught, who gets shot, and who gets the loot. It’s about doom, an ominous sense that you are headed towards disaster, hypnotized as in a waking nightmare, but cannot stop yourself.
The Bank Job stars Jason Statham, normally an action star of crackerjack talents, who relies very little on his fists here, and thus broadens his range. He’s playing a soulful sinner, a man who at some point stops digging his own grave, only to realize that he has passed some dread threshold where it appears to be finishing the digging of its own accord. As in all the best noirs, there’s a woman involved, one who takes no joy from destroying men, but seems to do it everywhere she goes anyway.

The film is intriguingly inspired by true events, although they are events of such an outrageous nature that government intervention has assured no confirmation is possible of what is or isn’t true about the robbery which took place on September 11, 1971. But director Roger Donaldson, who after helming lucrative mediocrities like
The Recruit and Dante’s Peak has made an invigorating latter-day break from the Hollywood studio system, knows how to tease the unlikely together with solid storytelling, how to bring out all the flavor in the screenplay by veterans Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (Still Crazy, The Commitments), so that the whole feels wickedly plausible.

Statham plays Terry Leather, who has never robbed a bank before and is trying to lead a less-spotty life than he used to for the sake of his wife (Keeley Hawes) and children. But the daily grind of small lies and shortcuts at his car dealership, the indignity of owing money to petty thugs who like to smash his cars before he can sell them, hardly feels like upright living. He is sorely tempted by that mirage of the big score, one last large sin that would allow him to leave the others behind. That this time the offer comes from Martine (Saffron Burrows) just seals the deal.

Martine is a former model, who briefly dated one of Terry’s mates, but has always sensed something hungry and unrequited between the two of them. She has been presented inside information about a weakness in the safe deposit box vault at the tony Lloyd’s Bank of London, and is offering Terry the chance to assemble a crew of upwardly-mobile semi-professional villains to act on this tidbit. What he doesn’t know is how she came by this information, and what it is in that vault that she needs to access, an item that becomes the hot potato in an exploding carnival of cross-scheming spies, pornographers, black radicals, and Members of Parliament. One of the greatest film noirs, 1947’s Out of the Past, was based on a novel called Build My Gallows High; Statham plays Terry Leather as a man agog at how high he has just realized the gallows are, and how they seem to be growing still by the hour.

But this is a fatalistic movie without being a pessimistic one – those who recognize this distinction will be best positioned to appreciate its quietly-blossoming excellence. There’s verve to its rush towards disaster; I think this is part of its essential Britishness, finding cheek and wit even in mounting grim circumstances. It enjoys the details of the heist: the tunneling, the accidents, the close scrapes with the police. It doles out little morsels of profanity, violence, and coincidence, a trail of sweets that leads us inexorably into a divine muddle where it seems impossible for our underdog thieves to avoid being killed several times over.

This is a movie with quite a gallery of characters, but you think back and realize how expertly it accounts for all their motives and histories. In part this is thanks to casting; Burrows in her sinewy maturity seems sexier than ever, and each supporting actor, whether they are playing crook, cop, psychopath, or stooge, feels precisely matched by face, voice, and posture to their position on the food chain. Grounded in the ancient British tradition of class warfare, and its accompanying slang, a movie like The Bank Job wins us over by taking the form of a chess game, in which the pawns of both sides have staged a trickle-up revolt, tired of being manipulated and sacrificed with no reward for aims they don’t understand. Pawns working together can be dangerous – they have a lot less to lose.


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