Monday, March 10, 2008

No dry run (The Bank Job)

The Bank Job [R]
Grade: B

From one look at the title, The Bank Job doesn’t promise much of a novel experience.

After all, “bank job” is one of the essential services performed by Englishmen in the movie world. Right next to “dry humour, “sophisticated villain,” “plastered ruffian, “ and “sexless aristocrat.” And we can’t forget Rowan Atkinson or Benny Hill.

So yes, The Bank Job rolls off the line with standard features. Movie tough guy Jason Statham pisses a vinegar path through a city of smut kings, bent cops, crooked gents, dizzy dames, and various and sundry slimy buggers. One hint of an indecipherable accent and you’re sure that someone in the cast must be named Alistair. Yet with smarts, tension, and director Roger Donaldson’s gunfire-quick delivery, The Bank Job shapes its theivery into an engrossing piece of sexy entertainment.

The kick of The Bank Job is its unusual story, one that may be based on unrevealed details of the actual 1971 Baker Street bank robbery in London. Whether you believe what you see depends on your trust in the screenwriters, who say they unearthed new details of the unsolved crime from heretofore unknown participants.

They advance a juicy theory about the robbery – allegedly British intelligence commissioned the heist in order to snag compromising sexual photos of a royal. Allegedly, the photos were being held in the safe deposit box of a London drug dealer who has appointed himself a civil rights leader (played by Jeffrey Wright). They don't make for much family reunion fun, but they do work as blackmail insurance to keep him out of the slammer. To snatch them, Scotland Yard leverages a drug-trafficking suspect named Martine Love (Saffrom Burrows) to find criminals who won't be linked to the agency. She persuades ex-flame Terry Leather (Jason Statham), a pug-faced petty criminal tempted to step into the big league for one big haul.

The British gangster film has made its own British invasion. England is shoveling them into the United States like synth-pop in eighties or Beatles clones in the sixties. Its stars (Clive Owen, Daniel Craig, Colin Farrelll) have become our stars. You feel like there’s a stone ceiling over which they are unlikely to rise in quality, a limit to what they can achieve. Yet if every piece of entertainment were such brisk and sexy craft, we, as film critics, could all drop our pens.

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