March 06, 2008

The Bank Job

Ocean's Across the Pond

Grade: B
Director: Roger Donaldson
Starring: Jason Statham, Saffron Burrows, Steven Campbell Moore, Daniel Mays, Peter De Jersey, David Suchet, and Richard Lintern
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

While fairly conventional as far as heist films go, the distinctive aspects of The Bank Job are both its footing in fact and an embrace of milieu, parlaying the infamous 1971 looting of the safe deposit box vault inside Lloyds in London’s Baker Street into a far-reaching dramatization that embroils petty thieves, hippies, Black radicals, Soho porno producers, gangsters, corrupt cops, politicians, the Notting Hill liberal elite, and even the Royal Family. It is the sort of English class-divide whimsy one might expect from Stephen Frears. Still, Aussie director Roger Donaldson (No Way Out; Thirteen Days) knows how to churn out a procedural corker, and he spices this Cockney caper with just the right amount of Guy Ritchie and Sexy Beast verve to keep up the hip quotient.

In September of 1971, reports of a bank robbery hit the front pages of London papers for several days before a government gang order, or D-Notice, was reportedly imposed to prevent further coverage. Evidence and investigation reports of the robbery were sealed and the perpetrators were never arrested or prosecuted. Claiming the cooperation of a “deep throat” informant involved with the original investigation, screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais reconstruct their version of the events surrounding the robbery, primarily their contention that the contents of some of the safe deposit boxes prompted the crime and ultimately led to the D-Notice.

In truth, the shroud of mystery surrounding the real-life robbery allows the filmmakers leeway to take unbridled dramatic license in revealing the untold “truth.” Here, the significant booty in question comprises compromising sexual photographs of various MPs and even Princess Margaret, held under lock and key by Black revolutionary and slum lord Michael X (Peter De Jersey) to use as blackmail. Sought by MI5 and MI6, an intelligence agent (Richard Lintern) solicits the assistance of small-time drug smuggler Martine Love (Saffron Burrows) to gather a cadre of crooks willing to break into the bank’s vault, pinch the photos, and make off with any other treasure trove they find. Jason Statham headlines the relatively little-known cast, bringing to bear his trademark jut-jawed masculinity and droll wit to Terry Leather, a small-time car dealer and hood who heads the robbers. The happily married Terry’s romantic past with Martine supplies the script with a delectable layer of sexual tension.

The film’s final act is as frenzied as it is far-fetched. However, given the matter-of-fact way Donaldson presents the caper, coupled with the vaporization of any trace of the heist in the media and official record, an outlandish explanation of the robbery’s motives and aftermath is, ironically, the kind that makes the most sense.

Neil Morris

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