The Bank Job
Director : Kent Alterman
Screenplay : Dick Clement & Ian Lafrenais
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : Jason Statham (Terry), Saffron Burrows (Martine Love), Richard Lintern (Tim Everett), Stephen Campbell Moore (Kevin Swain), Daniel Mays (Dave Shilling), Peter Bowles (Miles Urquart), Peter De Jersey (Michael X), David Suchet (Lew Vogel)
In September of 1971, an unknown number of thieves tunneled 40 feet beneath a women's dress shop and came through the concrete floor of the vault in a Lloyd's Bank on Baker Street in London. They looted the safety deposit boxes, making off with an estimated $4 million in cash and jewels. Part of the robbery was recorded by a ham radio operator who picked up the robbers' walkie-talkie transmissions, but the police couldn't figure out which bank was in the midst of being robbed. The papers were plastered with news of the robbery for four days, but then the British government issued a D notice (usually reserved for national emergencies), which effectively silenced media coverage and shrouded the event in secrecy. No one was ever caught. None of the money was ever recovered.
My only question is: How has it taken this long for someone to make a movie about this fascinating real-life crime?
Veteran screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (Across the Universe) and director Roger Donaldson (The Recruit) have filled in that gaping hole with The Bank Job, which offers an intriguing, conspiracy-laden explanation for the robbery, making it the British equivalent of JFK (while the film notes that it is only “inspired” by true events, Clement and La Frenais claim to have worked with a secret “deep throat” source). According to The Bank Robbery, the so-called “walkie-talkie robbery” was never about money. Rather, it was about dirt, scandal, and governmental cover-up in the highest echelons of Parliament. It involved petty criminals, MPs, a porn king, and a self-styled Black Power radical with compromising pictures of a certain Royal. In less than two hours, he film weaves a tight web of corruption that binds together the whole of British culture, from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. All of it may not be true, but it certainly makes for a rip-roaring story.
Jason Statham (Crank, The Transporter) stars as Terry Leather, a low-level criminal whose current occupation involves selling used cars with rolled back tachometers and owing money to a local hood. When a former flame named Martine Love (Saffron Burrows) shows up unexpectedly with news of a can't lose bank heist, he and his associates Kevin Swain (Stephen Campbell Moore) and Dave Shilling (Daniel Mays) sign up. They complete the gang with an expert in digging, a con artist who will pose as the owner of the shop under which they will be burrowing, and one of Terry's employees as look-out on a roof high above. Little do they know that Martine is actually working for a shady member of British Intelligence named Tim Everett (Richard Lintern) who wants them to break into the vault to steal photographs that are being used by the Black Power radical Michael X (Peter De Jersey) to keep himself from being prosecuted. But, that's not all because the robbers also make off local porn king Lew Vogel's (David Suchet) ledger in which he kept fastidious notes of all the pay-offs he had been making to corrupt cops.
Thus, the easiest part of the heist turns out to be the heist itself, which comes off flawlessly. The fire that follows spews from every corner of London, putting the robbers (who are by far the most honorable characters in the film) in the crosshairs of the law and the lawless, both of which are exceedingly dangerous because they are now in danger of being exposed. In The Bank Job, everyone--legitimate and otherwise--has something to hide, in this case literally. The suggestion is that the safety deposit boxes looted in the Baker Street robbery were a veritable treasure trove of misdeeds by England's high and mighty, especially of the sexual variety (not only are there photographs of Royal transgressions, but also of MPs enjoying special care at a high-end brothel). Stolen money is always replaceable; stolen secrets can spell the end. Thus, in a strange way, the robbers--common criminals though they may be--become the ultimate social levelers, breaking into the darkest recesses of the powerful and unintentionally hijacking the skeletons they've locked away.
Donaldson orchestrates all of this in crisp, sharp scenes that quickly draw indelible characters and follow the well-worn trail of other heist movies without ever once feeling stale or tired. Donaldson's work on the superior diplomacy thriller Thirteen Days (2000) is certainly in evidence, as much of the film draws its finely wrought tension from the potential fall-out of even one wrong move. There are certainly conventional moments of suspense, such as when the police come into the bank while the robbery is in progress, but can't enter the vault because of a time-lock. From a genre standpoint, The Bank Robbery is top notch, hitting all the high points at just the right angle, but the film ultimately works because it is about so much more than its blunt title suggests.
The workmanlike performances by Statham and company are all solid, making us believe in these blue-collar criminals and their material desires (for Statham's Terry, it means providing for his wife and two children, a subplot that is unfortunately the weakest developed element in the film). The more villainous roles of government manipulators and violent radicals are also well played, suggesting a level of deep corruption that is all too easily masked by official status and political rhetoric. The Bank Job's clever reconstruction of what very well may have happened based on a mixture of fact, speculation, and innuendo makes it easy to feel like society is just a thin façade for mechanisms of power and dishonesty the likes of which we can hardly imagine, and the fact that such disturbing sentiments are enmeshed in such an effective heist movie makes it all the more compelling.
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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