Movie Review: The Bank Job
By Matthew Huntley
March 18, 2008
As a heist movie, The Bank Job does more than make the cut. It contains all the usual scenes and situations typical of the genre but it presents them in a way that's both fresh and exciting. In fact, it has so many working storylines I wish it had run longer. At just under two hours, I think if the movie added another 15 minutes or so, it could have approached the brink of greatness.
Jason Statham stars as Terry Leather, a car dealer who's heavily in debt. One day, after a couple muscle men threaten him for payment, his old model friend Martine Love (Saffron Burrows) proposes they get a team together and rob the Lloyds Bank in Marylebone London. It's the perfect time, she says, because the new railroads have made the bank's security system inoperable. Terry, who's married to Wendy (Keeley Hawes) and has two daughters, hesitates but decides to go along in hopes the job will free him of financial burden.
Martine doesn't reveal her real motivations for the job. On her way back from Morocco, she's arrested for drug possession and an MI5 agent (Richard Lintern) tells her the charges will be dropped if she obtains the contents of a safe deposit box. These would be photos of Princess Margaret in compromising sexual positions, taken by Michael X (Peter De Jersey), a black radical whom MI5 wants to take down. His only leverage with MI5 is the secret photos of the Royal Family.
Terry asks three of his friends - Kevin (Stephen Campbell Moore), Dave (Daniel Mays) and Eddie (Michael Jibson) - and two colleagues, Bambas (Alki David) and Miles (Peter Bowles), to aid in the robbery. Their plan is to dig a tunnel under an abandoned shop two buildings down from the bank then dig up into the safety deposit room.
Their plans for an easy getaway go awry when they find other evidence that puts them in greater trouble with high officials. Along with the photos of Princess Margaret, they find explicit pictures of government MPs in a brothel. After news spreads of the robbery, yet another man, a nightclub owner named Lew Vogel (David Suchet), panics because his log for paying off corrupt police officers was in one of the boxes that was raided.
A subplot involves a British agent named Gale (Hattie Morahan) sent to spy on Michael X at his home in Trinidad. She strikes up a romance with one of X's associates and finds she may also be in over her head.
It's easy to imagine the movie's multiple threads becoming tangled and making an incoherent mess, but director Roger Donaldson and editor John Gilbert hold them together and keep the stories moving. Because there have been so many heist pictures, I assumed the actual robbery scenes would slow the movie down (how many times have we seen a bank robbery?), but that's not the case. The reason for that, I think, is because everything that happens in the movie matters when it happens and each event affects the next one. We don't see the ending miles away and it was nice how it didn't all boil down to the proverbial chase scene.
It helps, too, that Dick Clement and Ian Lafrenais' screenplay was inspired by actual events from 1971, the so-called "walkie-talkie" robbery. It's kind of amusing how the movie mentions most of those robbed in the case wouldn't reveal the contents of their safety deposit boxes. Just how many dirty secrets does one bank keep hidden?
There are some narrative compromises the movie makes, as when a ham radio technician listens to the walkie-talkie transmission between Terry and Eddie. It's not the technician happening upon their conversation that feels contrived, but how a mishap with the walkie-talkie conveniently makes it so the police can't find the robbers' location. Also, the ending outside Paddington Station more or less settles for routine action as Statham turns into his "Transporter" alter ego, complete with leg sweeps and head butts.
One thing I wish the movie had done was taken more time to develop Gale's story with Michael X, which seems like it could have made a movie all its own. I also wanted to know more about Michael X as a person, who's well played by De Jersey. There's obviously more to be said about this man than the movie makes time for.
Despite its shortcomings, "The Bank Job" is a rich, full-fledged crime story with effective scenes and strong performances. It's able to be taut without resorting to the usual cliches or devices, and Donaldson's direction allows the movie to move at a pace that's neither too frenetic nor too slow. He also give his actors room to perform (I was surprised to find extra time allotted for Terry and Wendy's relationship to develop). "The Bank Job" is a heist movie in every sense, but it was nice to find it being something more.