In recent years, I’ve gotten increasingly skeptical about crime movies from the UK. I very rarely use a country of origin as a reason to be turned off by a film, but all to often British crime movies have be increasingly derivative recycling of Tarentino’s style via Guy Richie. Of course there are plenty of bad derivative crime films made all over the world, but British exports seem particularly prone to this. So why has a hater like me already seen two of UK crime films this year? Well it’s mainly because of a lack of competition, if In Bruges and The Bank Job had been released during the summer or award season I would have happily ignored them, but the pickings are slim in March so I took the risk on them, and in the case of In Bruges I was pleasantly surprised. Fortunately I was also somewhat surprised by The Bank Job, a crime film even further from the lineage of Tarentino than In Bruges.
The film is set in 1971 London, and centers on Terry Leather (Jason Statham), a low level thug who partakes in low level crimes. An old girlfriend of Terry’s named Martine (Saffron Burrows) meets up with him and tells him about a plan she has to rob a local bank whose alarm system is undergoing repairs. Terry hasn’t done a heist as big as this before, but he agrees to this one because his auto repair business is not doing great, and he thinks it’s about time his gang breaks into the big leagues. What Terry doesn’t know is that Matine is doing this because she is being Blackmailed by MI5. The entire robbery is a scheme by MI5 to retrieve a compromising photograph of Princess Margret that is being held in a safety deposit box at the bank by a pseudo black militant calling himself Michael X (Peter de Jersey).
Jason Statham is a big part of why I was hesitant to see this film. Statham is not really a bad performer, but he regularly finds himself in really trashy movies. He seems to have two careers; one involves the aforementioned derivative British crime films like Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, the other path consists of B-Grade western Martial arts movies like War and The Transporter. This film doesn’t follow either of those trends in Statham’s career, but I can’t say it really makes me like him much more than I already did. Statham has what it takes to be a solid action movie hero; he’s something of a cross between Bruce Willis and Jean-Claude Van Damme. But I haven’t seen any evidence to see him as a truly great actor outside of this type of genre work the way someone like Willis is. Still, this is exactly the type of role that suits him, it’s a movie with a little more respectability but which doesn’t require him to really express any kind of deep emotion.
Another thing that turned me off to the movie was its bland title; in fact this is the blandest heist movie title since David Mamet’s Heist. Of course one should never judge a book by its cover, but somehow I couldn’t quite expect creative genius out of a movie that’s simply called The Bank Job. Like that title, the actual heist here really is quite bland, especially when compared to other heist films. There is no elaborate plan like one would find in Ocean’s 11, no firefight along the lines of Heat, and no colorful gang members like Reservoir Dogs. Instead this heist is a simple matter of tunneling into a bank that’s been closed over the weekend, grabbing all the cash and leaving. This isn’t rocket science and it’s also nothing we haven’t seen before, tunneling has been used in every heist film from Rififi to Entrapment to The Ladykillers.
Two thirds of the way through the film I was being somewhat entertained, but the film had not set itself apart at all. Fortunately, the story picks up in a big way in its third act and improves dramatically. What sets the film apart are the things surrounding the robbery rather than the heist itself. I don’t want to give away what goes on during the third act, there isn’t really a big twist but events simply begin to get more interesting after the heist, that’s where the film really kicks in.
The film is supposedly based on a true story, but I’m very skeptical about just how true any of this is. I’m willing to buy the basic details of the heist itself, but the angle about the Princess Margret photos and the other elements surrounding the heist are a bit harder to believe. The filmmakers claim that the truth of the incident haven’t been widely reported because of a D-notice placed on the situation by the British government, and this does make most of the film’s claims a bit hard to disprove. The whole thing strikes me as something of a wild conspiracy theory to me; I’m sure the royal family is important to MI5, but I highly doubt they’d go to anywhere near the lengths they are here over one scandal. Of course I’m never one to really worry that much about accuracy as long as a good yarn is being told, and if one doesn’t take the claim too seriously this won’t get in the way of one’s enjoyment.
The impressive third act almost makes me want to give the film a pass, but the fact still remains that two thirds of the movie are rather bland. The characters work, but I had no particularly interest or attachment to any of them. The script told the story well enough and the dialogue worked well enough, although there was some kind of clunky exposition at points. The film’s visual style worked moderately well, although there was absolutely nothing about it that set the film apart from the pack. Not setting itself apart from the pack very much is a running theme in the film really. The film is simply very average for most of its running time. I’d be willing to recommend this as a rental, because I’m really close to giving it a pass, but I can’t really say it’s worth seeing in the theaters.
**1/2 out of Four