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The Bank Job A Pleasant Surprise

The Bank Job (Lionsgate, 2008)
Directed by Roger Donaldson
Written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais

After watching the brilliant The Dark Knight yesterday, I got home and popped in The Bank Job, which was released on DVD this week. While neither movie is very similar, I found it interesting to note that while The Dark Knight shows us an example of how big budget entertainment can be so much more epic and profound than many stuffy individuals would lead you to believe is possible, The Bank Job is a prime example of the other spectrum. It’s a film that has very little new to say or add to its respective sub-genre, but it’s so damn entertaining with colorful characters (that only the British can seem to manage) and a fast paced energetic storyline that it ends up being quite a bit better than it probably has any right to be.

In most film lovers’ minds, the end-all of British crime capers is 1980’s The Long Good Friday, and I don’t disagree. However I will argue that The Bank Job (despite a boring title) is the closest they have come since to capturing that same type of melodramatic flair. The film is loosely based on a true story. In 1971, a ham radio operator overheard a bank robbery in progress and reported it to the police, who a few days later put a gag order on the media, and the story was essentially forgotten.

Writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais took this little historical nugget and concocted a film that combines a bank robbery with inner city corruption of the highest order (maybe this does have a little in common with The Dark Knight). The bank is stockpiled with safety deposit boxes that contain little treasures such as ledger books from a Porn King (David Suchet) with names of dirty cops and some compromising pictures of sex acts that involve everyone from high ranking political figures to members of British royalty.

The movie breaks one rule right off the back, and that is if you open up your movie with a lurid sex act, the following ninety minutes or so will probably just be enticing visuals with no narrative backbone. But The Bank Job bucks the odds. Martine Love (Saffron Burrows) has been busted on a drug smuggling charge, but gets offered a deal to possibly get her out of it. An outspoken African American protestor, Michael X (the British counterpart to Malcolm, and played expertly by Peter De Jersey), has been charged with a much higher count of drug and arms smuggling, but cannot be touched since he is said to have the aforementioned compromising photos in his possession.

The British authorities believe that he is keeping them in a safety deposit box, but cannot get a warrant to search without attracting unwanted attention. Agent Tim Everett (Richard Lintern) has been asked to handle the matter as discreetly as possible, so he bargains with Martine to put together a bank robbery and give him the contents of Michael’s box; Martine and her crew can keep everything else they manage to steal.

Martine looks up an old flame, Terry Leather (Jason Statham), who has plenty of money troubles of his own. Martine, Terry, and a few other acquaintances decide to go through with the robbery. Martine has chosen to keep them out of the loop in regards to her deal with Tim. Once Terry figures out what is going on he realizes that they may be used as fall guys after the operation is over, and so he takes matter into his own hands to try and save him and his friends from possible jail sentences or even worse, being killed by the corrupt individuals that are trying to avoid the attention.

Statham is the closest we have presently to an 80’s type action star; I’m not sure if you would consider that a good or bad thing. Most of his films involve thin storylines that allow him to run around and kick a lot of people’s asses. Most of the time, these are fairly entertaining excursions, but I assumed going in that The Bank Job would be more of the same. Color me surprised when I discovered that this was more of a character driven thriller, and that Statham actually had to play a three dimensional role, and he actually pulls it off quite well.

I was also intrigued by the fact that the bank robbery itself is a fairly minor part of the proceedings. They rob the bank about 45 minutes in to a film that almost reaches 2 hours. And the job itself is pretty standard. The crew rents out a closed shop two doors down from the bank and digs a tunnel to the vault. The best part of the film is the last hour and watching how they turn the screws on all of the interested parties. This is not a new technique when it comes to story structure in heist films, but considering the title of the film, I assumed this would be what the bulk of the film would be about.

Roger Donaldson, who is by no means a premiere filmmaker, has always been an expert craftsman, and he is the perfect director for this type of film. He knows as well as anyone how to move the action along at a reasonable pace, and to distract you from all of the obvious plot holes that stories like this usually contain. With films like The Recruit and White Sands under his belt, he is no stranger to this type of thriller, and this is his best of that genre by a long shot.

The Bank Job is nothing more than escapist entertainment, but it is of the highest order. It’s a straight forward genre film that manages to throw in some exciting twists and well written scenes that if nothing else, will entertain your socks off. So while it might be a little too by the numbers for someone looking for something with a little more depth, it’s a film that succeeds at giving the audience everything it intends to, and for that I really can’t complain. As Freud might say, sometimes a movie is simply just a movie. It’s a lot of fun and well worth checking out.

Sam Loomis 

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