by HELEN GEIB
The Bank Job is a heist movie set in 1970s London and featuring a large cast of capable British character actors headlined by Jason Statham, Saffron Burrows, and David Suchet. The film claims to be based on a true story, and if even half of what is portrayed is true, the story is good evidence for the old adage about truth being stranger than fiction.
Statham plays Terry, a small business owner whose current debts suggest a long history of failed, somewhat shady get rich quick schemes. He is approached by Martine (Burrows) when he’s at his most susceptible. Martine got out of the old neighborhood on her looks, has legal troubles she doesn’t mention, and pitches the bank job as a can’t miss proposition. Robbing a bank is far out of Terry and his pals’ criminal league, but they’re quickly seduced by the lure of easy money and a soft set-up. The core of the film follows the fortunes of Terry and his gang in planning, executing, and trying to survive the consequences of the heist.
The gangs’ story is intertwined with several plot strands about the instigators and victims of the heist. I use the term victims loosely: three leaders of successful criminal enterprises have the contents of their safe deposit boxes stolen. One of those criminals, mastermind of a lucrative drug-smuggling and prostitution business who cloaks his operations in black power militancy, is the target of the British secret service operation that set the robbery plan in motion. Of more immediate concern to the gang is Lew Vogel (Suchet), powerful local boss of pornography and prostitution rackets, who kept his ledger of police payoffs in his box.
The movie is an impressive juggling act, keeping all of its plot balls circling throughout. The film clearly lays out the complicated plot and its complex back story, and keeps the many story elements nicely balanced to build interest and suspense. The heist itself is one of the best parts of the film, but it doesn’t overwhelm the rest of this intriguing story.
All of the cast do solid work, particularly Statham as the tough, conflicted, and softhearted Terry. Best marks, though, must go to Suchet, note perfect as the cynical and pragmatic Vogel, self-described king of smut and a truly ruthless operator when his back is pushed to the wall.
The film’s only real flaw is the overly stark change in tone between the pre-heist and after-heist segments. The gang is a motley group and several of its members none too bright, and their near haplessness is played up strongly for comic effect before and during the heist. When the job’s aftermath turns grisly the radical turn of events (and the “attitude” of the film) is disorienting. That effect is no doubt at least in part a deliberate identification with Terry and the boys, who take it all rather as a lark until they are forced to take it all very, very seriously. However, while both parts of the film work very well in themselves, they would have worked better as a whole if the comic tone of the first had been more modulated.