Eugene Weekly : Movies : 3.27.08


Finders Keepers
Heist film barely steals your attention

THE BANK JOB: Directed by Roger Donaldson. Written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. Cinematography, Michael Coulter. Music, J. Peter Robinson. Starring Jason Statham, Saffron Burrows, Richard Lintern, Peter De Jersey, Stephen Campbell Moore and Daniel Mays. Lionsgate, 2008. R. 110 minutes.

Terry (Jason Statham) in The Bank Job

In the wake of slick heist thrillers like Ocean’s 11 bobs The Bank Job, a bouncy but barely there caper about the looting of a London vault. Based on a true story but packed with conjecture due to the nature of the crime, The Bank Job examines with breezy efficiency the 1971 robbery in which a gang of easygoing low-lifes — they’re about as deadly as the A-Team — snatched several safety deposit boxes, one of which held snapshots of Princess Margaret completely starkers. This is to say, without her bloomers on, with a man’s head giving her crotch a very close inspection. The problem with The Bank Job isn’t that it plays all this as fun; it does, but apart from the occasional gag, it’s not nearly fun enough. Instead, it aims for something closer to gritty realism, but it finds only outlines and traces without shading. While not stupid, The Bank Job is merely sufficient, a serviceable but forgettable film that appeases in the same way drive-thru food appeases. It should be savored about as much.

This is a shame, because the story itself is a whopper. Massively in debt, car dealer Terry (Jason Statham) accepts a bank heist job from Martine (Saffron Burrows), a friend and former model who, unbeknownst to Terry, faces jail time if she can’t make the bank job happen. That’s because British intelligence has organized the heist to retrieve the pictures of the princess. All they need is a group of disposable villains to carry it out. It’s almost too convoluted, but director Roger Donaldson stays in control of the story, which sets up an assembly line of competing but complementary interests and thus a rising tide of opportunity: Martine need only deliver the photographs to be free, while the loot can go to Terry’s gang, provided they don’t catch on to Martine’s subterfuge. If Terry discovers the pictures, it will more than shatter the conventional “honor among thieves” wisdom; it will downright pique his interest. Which happens anyway when the vault reveals even more scandalous material, causing several of the box’s owners to take a serious interest in Terry and company.

Stranger than fiction, all of this, but that doesn’t keep screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (Across the Universe) from loading in sudden outbursts of sex, gratuitous period costuming and, worst of all, a totally unconvincing civil rights subplot about black activism in early 1970s London. The latter is the most egregious element of The Bank Job: The man who owns the photographs is Michael X (Peter De Jersey), an influential black revolutionary who in the film comes off as equal parts spite and paranoia. The actual Michael X was much more complicated than that, if less dangerous than The Bank Job portrays him to be, all of which is in keeping with the film’s sensationalized approach to history.

The buttress in this ramshackle edifice is Saffron Burrows, a sultry beauty whose cheekbones alone communicate more than Jason Statham’s body, which tends to be wooden — but wood that’s been ejected from a gun, as demonstrated in films like The Transporter and Crank. If Burrows benefits by comparison to the less gifted Statham, so be it, but in The Bank Job Burrows’ duplicity as Martine seems constantly at war with her affection for Terry, a conflict that results in her seeming at once removed and available. Burrows may yet become more than the minor actress she is. For Statham, one imagines it’s more of the same ahead.