The only people who might be disappointed by The Bank Job are those hoping for a car chase-filled, shoot ‘em up, high-energy heist movie. If they can also appreciate a well-made, complex, suspenseful drama, they’re going to be pretty happy. Ocean’s Fourteen this is not — and that’s not a bad thing at all.
Director Roger Donaldson, whose credits include the Cuban Missile Crisis drama Thirteen Days, returns with another film based on actual events, this time the 1971 robbery of a Lloyd’s Bank in London. Possibly the largest heist in history (since many of the safety deposit box owners never wanted to reveal the contents, the actual take is unknown), The Bank Job presents a theory of just how a bunch of amateur thieves managed to pull it off. Just as the film has more depth than you might expect, so do the robbers.
Leading the pack is Terry Leather (Jason Statham), a car salesman with a side business in various minor illegal activities. It’s obvious that he’s supposed to be lovable, even if he does have some questionable traits. In fact, all the ”heroes” are living less than straight and narrow lives: Martine Love (Saffron Burrows) starts the whole job to avoid prosecution for drug possession, Dave (Daniel Mays) uses his natural gifts to make porn, and so on. None of it really matters, though, because we want them to rob the bank and get away with it.
In fact, a number of people are pulling for them to be successful, including the British government. It turns out that the whole ordeal is being orchestrated by the government to recover pictures of Princess Margaret in compromising positions (sexual positions, that is). Once they’re recovered, their owner, Michael X (Peter De Jersey), who fashions himself as Malcolm’s British counterpart but also runs drugs, can be eliminated. Tim Everett (Richard Lintern) is the intelligence agent playing the thieves as pawns to get what he needs. If they fail, they’re dispensable and can’t be traced back to him. It’s no wonder that we’re rooting for the outlaws.
Statham made his start in the Guy Ritchie-directed films Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, but is better known for his tough guy roles in The Transporter and the amazingly horrible Crank. Though usually required to flex and fight more than emote, Statham is fantastic as a looter with a heart. Sporting his perma-stubble and his usual menacing squint, Statham brings surprising depth to Terry, whose main motivation is caring for his wife and daughters.
Opposite Statham, Burrows is great as the temptress Martine who uses her wily ways to entice the men to pull off the heist while not being honest about her motivations. Burrows has less to work with in her character but she and Statham are still a dynamic duo on screen.
Director Donaldson uses a slow and deliberate pace throughout the film to carefully lay the groundwork for what is ultimately a complex and multilayered story. Some of the plotlines seem tangential at first; however they are eventually woven in to add yet another layer to the story. A couple of time jumps in the beginning confuse the initial flow of the film, but by the end the vast array of characters are neatly brought together and what could have been a muddled mess is crystal clear.
When the robbers enter the vault only one hour into the film, it becomes obvious that there is much more going on. The second half of the film is even more entertaining than the first as the political ramifications of their decisions are made clear. You’re never really sure who is playing whom, but it’s clear that the bad guys and the nice guys can be one and the same.
Though lacking the star power and humor of the Ocean’s Eleven remake and sequels, The Bank Job is a heist film that holds its own. In fact, it steals the show.