Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Bank Job

THE BANK JOB (Roger Donaldson, 2008)

The 1971 robbery of Lloyds Bank on Baker Street in London is considered to be one of the biggest heists in England's history, yet no money was recovered nor any arrests made. Perhaps even more stunning is that this tantalizing story was reported in the media for just a few days because of a government request not to publish or broadcast information about the matter. THE BANK JOB, a fictionalized account of the event, purports to reveal untold truths about what happened.

Struggling car dealer Terry Leather (Jason Statham) has been known to be involved with unsavory characters and enterprises, but he is strictly a small-time crook. He admits as much when longtime acquaintance Martine Love (Saffron Burrows) presents him with a tempting opportunity to make a quick killing. She claims inside knowledge of a bank whose security system will be out of commission temporarily, leaving a vault full of safe deposit boxes vulnerable to thieving hands.

The prospects sound too promising to turn down, so Terry assembles a team of amateur criminals to assist with pulling off the robbery. They acquire a shop two doors down from the bank and go about the arduous tunneling so they can break into the vault from below.

This is not an ordinary heist, though. Black militant Michael X (Peter De Jersey) is storing scandalous photographs of a Royal Family member in this particular bank. He uses the threat of the pictures going public as a means of keeping the authorities at bay. MI5 is determined to get the photos. Using Martine's legal troubles as leverage, the government agency concocts the plan for her to carry out. Ideally MI5 gets the compromising pictures, Martine escapes prosecution on drug charges, and Terry and his oblivious crew go away with a fortune.

Undoubtedly director Roger Donaldson and screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais have taken liberties with the facts for dramatic purposes. THE BANK JOB doesn't get its juice from being based on real events, though. The truthful element is simply a sweet bonus. Densely plotted and briskly paced, the film weaves a fascinating story of cops and robbers and sex scandals and police corruption.

The fun really begins after the heist has concluded. Storylines converge so that Terry and his buddies are put in a seemingly unwinnable position. Turning over the pictures to MI5 gets them free and clear with the government, but doing so puts them at risk with the underground porn king who had a ledger documenting his police bribes stolen from his safe deposit box. He also has ties with Michael X and a vested interest in holding onto his damaging photographic evidence. The crooked policemen aren't keen about being found out either, yet stiffing the intelligence agency is obviously a losing proposition.

Watching Terry finagle out of the jam is as satisfying as any of the break-in's particulars. Cool and collected as ever, Statham plays an outlaw capable of capturing the public's favor.

Executed with machine-like precision, THE BANK JOB is a ripping good caper with plenty of interesting twists. Ultimately, how much of it is true is secondary to its entertaining nature.

Grade: B

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