The Bank Job is not just another slick caper film. It's robust, messy, cluttered, and a cut well above the average crime job.
The Bank Job tunnels its own distinctive way under the well-worn genre. It's no cookie-cutter thriller.
Much of the distinctiveness of The Bank Job is due to its first-rate director, Australian Roger Donaldson. Donaldson is a director who has made several popular successes, but he's a pro who is willing to take risks.
Donaldson directed No Way Out (1987), with Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman -- a movie with a cunning surprise ending. I still herald No Way Out, because it's a movie I didn't figure out, and I appreciate that.
Donaldson also directed Thirteen Days (2000), a gripping portrait of JFK (Bruce Greenwood), Kenny O'Donnell (Costner), and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In 2005 Donaldson directed the off-beat movie, The World's Fastest Indian, about "real-life" Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins) and motorcycle racing.
The Bank Job -- like Thirteen Days and The World's Fastest Indian -- is another Donaldson movie that has roots in actuality; it is loosely based on a bank robbery in 1971, which had drastic repercussions for the robbers and the British government.
The Bank Job focuses on the robbery of a Lloyd's Bank on Baker Street in Marylebone, London. Terry (Jason Statham) is approached by old friend Martine (Saffron Burrows), who has a plan to rob a bank.
Unbeknownst to Terry, Martine has gotten into drug difficulties and British agents (MI-5 or MI-6) get her to try to arrange her connections to rob a bank vault.
In the bank they plan for Martine to recover incriminating photos hidden in a safety deposit box by a Black Power advocate who is using them to blackmail the government to keep himself out of jail. The photos damage the Royal Family, because Princess Margaret was photographed behaving like a "scalawag."
Terry has a garage and deals cars, but he has accumulated a hefty gambling debt, so he is vulnerable. He wants the cash, but doesn't know about the photos. He is willing to put together a gang of small-timers for the once-in-a-lifetime big heist.
The heist is complicated by several different groups. There are the robbers, the British Secret Service, a gang run by a Soho porn king (David Suchet), the brutal Black Power disciples, and corrupt police from Scotland Yard. All have an interest in the robbery. It's quite a stew. They keep stumbling over each other, sometimes comically, other times violently.
The Bank Job is based on some facts, but after the actual robbery occurred, the British government imposed a D-Notice on the events, which prevented further media coverage.
Donaldson and writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais have shaken the old pot, and have gone beyond the stifled coverage to imagine some conflicts and combustion.
Jason Statham (Transporters, Crank) holds the diffuse plot together with a strong performance as the determined Terry. His action fans don't have to worry; Statham gets to break heads near the end. And Crank 2 is coming soon.
Terry is married and has two daughters, but Martine gets his attention. Saffron Burrows (TV's Boston Legal) also gives a strong performance as the wily woman.
The rest of the cast is excellent, especially David Suchet (TV's Hercule Poirot) as a Soho porn maven, who has a list of clients from Parliament in his safety deposit box in the targeted bank.
Director Donaldson puts his unique stamp on the proceedings. This probably is the first heist movie in which the robbers stop their drilling to take a nap underground.
The torture scenes are powerful, and the political intrigue is potent. The robbery happened in 1971 London, which was in an era, which featured parliamentary pretenses and sleazy activities. In a sense The Bank Job reflects the beginning of the collapse of that period.
As in many heist films, the robbers are the good guys -- or the not-so-bad guys. They at least try to trust each other. The bad guys are the manipulative British agents, the corrupt police, and the Soho hoodlums.
When Terry brings them together near the end, the movie is close to chaos. But it's good chaos. Donaldson has a nice, professional jab and more. The Bank Job might have been sharper, but it still packs a wallop.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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