March 8, 2008

REVIEW: The Bank Job (B-)

Background: It's not often that heist movies are based on true stories. They may be remakes (The Italian Job, The Thomas Crown Affair) or star-studded popcorn flicks (Ocean's 11-13, Inside Man), but they're usually clichéd, one-last-job-before-I-retire stories. The Bank Job is based on the infamous 1971 Lloyd's Bank robbery in London and is "intended to reveal the truth for the first time." Because the stolen loot involved devastating information on the British government, a "D-notice" (gag order) was put on the story immediately after the robbery, which is why few people have known about it for so long. Directed by Roger Donaldson (The World's Fastest Indian) and starring Jason Statham (Crank, The Italian Job) and Saffron Burrows (Reign Over Me, Troy), the film is a throwback to caper movies of the 1960's and 70's. Just a study of the poster here gives you an idea of the attention paid to the details in production design.

Synopsis: In 1971 London, Terry (Statham) and his mates are small-time crooks who are looking for the right job to allow them an early retirement. Martine Love (Burrows) is Terry's childhood friend/flame and a low-level drug dealer herself. Michael X is causing all sorts of problems for the British government (and their cloaked MI-5 agency) but is immune from prosecution because he possesses incriminating photos in a safety deposit box at Lloyd's Bank on Baker Street. When they catch Martine smuggling drugs into the country, the MI-5 unit offers her a free release - if she can secretly recruit Terry's gang to break into the bank and retrieve the photos. The police don't know, Michael X doesn't know, and whatever else they steal they can keep. So, quite suddenly, the heist is in motion as the crew tunnels into the bank's vault from underneath neighboring storefronts. Genuine suspense frames the scenes when they're making the score, but the momentum stops soon after it's over. Terry, who has been suspicious of Martine's motives the whole time, turns the tables on her and MI-5 - he not only wants to keep the loot, but wants permanent immunity from prosecution related to the robbery. What he doesn't count on is revenge from the people who had valuable goods in the those safety deposit boxes, including Michael X and a local porn king who had a record of police pay-offs stored in the bank. As the movie comes it its dragging end, we're witness to a disappointing showdown between Terry, MI-5, and the porn king's gang. Our hero is vindicated and in a very long pre-credits epilogue we learn what happened to all of the people involved.

I Loved:
+ Jason Statham, in a role that required more from him than just smirks, roundhouse kicks and head butts. Of course they still found a spot to squeeze those in (no way that happened in real life), but it's still one of his better characters.

I Liked:
+ The supporting performances - you'll recognize Stephen Campbell Moore (The History Boys, Amazing Grace) and Daniel Mays (Atonement) as Ken and Dave, respectively.
+ The techniques of the break in - the digging, thermal lancer, busting into the safety deposit boxes. Why do we think it's so cool to see bank robberies? I'd be livid if that was my stuff.

I Disliked:
- The distracting musical score - it's literally in the background of almost every scene, regardless of the place or mood of the moment.
- Peter De Jersey's terrible performance as Michael X.
- The poor pacing of the movie. It feels significantly longer than its run time.

I Hated:
- The going-nowhere kidney stone bit - how many times did we hear about it, and for what?
- That romance and marital strife played such a large role in a movie called The Bank Job. It added nothing but filler and killed the momentum of the movie. Who cares who liked whom when whomever was what age and who didn't know it and who's not over it and who slept with whom for what reason that no one can understand?

Writing - 7
Acting - 9
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 9
Music - 4
Significance - 3

Total: 40/50= 80% = B-

Last Word: I won't call it bad, but The Bank Job could have been a lot better. It kept my attention for the most part, and the actual break-in scene was solid from initial entry to exit, but I was otherwise restless. I knew it was a true story, but there was so much overdramatic Hollywoodization (the final train station scene, the cringe-worthy dialogue) that I couldn't fully grasp the genuine intrigue of the story. This is apparently one of the greatest (in terms of value) bank robberies ever, and no one was charged! The circumstances are incredible, but they're overshadowed here under the bungling direction of Roger Donaldson, who blows almost every chance to make this the dark and gripping film it should have been. I wonder if it would have even been better as a documentary, especially with so many complexities that can't be explained when action is the focus of the movie. Watching it you feel a sense of nostalgia for great robbery movies of yesteryear, but The Bank Job will probably make you wish you had just sat down and watched one of those instead.


  1. Sounds like The Bank Job lands somewhere between The Italian Job and Transporter 2. It sounds like the even the presence of Saffron Burrows makes this one convenient to miss. Thanks for the diagnosis, Daniel.

  2. Agree with your overall score, but I think it's funny you mention the music being annoying throughout, as in my review, I said that they opened and closed with music, but I didn't notice anything the rest of the time. Weird what people pick up on (or don't).

    I like the star rating's you've added (I wanted to add something like that for the LAMB in a different capacity and didn't know how), but I'm wondering - are we rating the movie or your post about the movie? That's not made totally clear.

  3. Wanted to catch this and In Bruges over the weekend but time didn't permit (any film with anything that might be mistaken for story requires at least an hour drive where I live) so I was left with a feast of DVDs which is also fine. I'm a heist movie addict so you're so-so notice won't deter me, but I appreciate the heads up.

  4. Thanks, Joe. It's entertaining enough for the trip to the theater, but it probably won't stay with you. Even Saffron Burrows is a little wasted in this part, I think.

    Very interesting, Fletch. There were definitely the two songs that opened and closed it, but I was picking up on the score the whole time and it took me out of it a little bit. The star rating is a bit of an experiment. My initial goal was to compile the top-rated posts for a link on the sidebar. It's meant to be a rating of my post, but obviously it's not working very well yet.

    Chuck, no need to go out of your way to see it immediately, but I'm sure you'll enjoy it at some point. In Bruges is a little more unique and a lot funnier, but if you like heist movies I'm sure you'll find a way to hook into The Bank Job, if only because you've probably seen more movies to compare it with.

  5. By the way Getahun, unless my web- navigation skills are worse than I thought, I've had no luck tracking down any info on the "true story" that this is based on. Even if only a tenth of this movie is accurate, I would imagine that there would be at least a mention somewhere.

    And also I'd like to throw in Rififi as the best heist movie ever made. Followed by Reservoir Dogs, How to Steal a Million, Oceans, and Heat (in no particular order).

  6. As near as I can tell, the true part is that the bank was robbed, they never caught who did it and the government put a gag order on the investigation.

    The rest of the details of the film are speculation based on people the screenwriters supposedly interviewed.

    This is a good example of a movie that was ok, but irritated me a little bit because it could've been so much better. Many of the parts were there for something fresh, orginal and interesting.

    Still, there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes in a movie theater.

  7. Well I spent a little bit of time researching before I wrote the review, but like both of you found, it's basically a mystery. There's not even a tell-all book it's based on, which surprises me. Like I said, it might have made for a better documentary, because somehow, even with the freedom to make up half of the facts, it still wasn't that good.

  8. I have NO desire to see this, but I am glad you enjoyed it.

  9. As Craig always puts it, you could live a long and fruitful life without seeing this, Nick. But I wouldn't say you should outright avoid it if the right opportunity comes at the right time.


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