Lionsgate // 2008 // 110 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // July 18th, 2008
The true story of a heist gone wrong...in all the right ways.
The title The Bank Job might ring of generic simplicity, but the "true" story presented here is hardly that. It's a heist flick that is complex and authentic in both its acting and time period...it's a little boring, too.
Terry Leathers (Jason Statham, The Transporter) used to be a lowly crook, now he owns a struggling car garage in East London. Just as things are beginning to look pretty dire for him, an old girlfriend, Martine (Saffron Burrows, Boston Legal), offers him a chance to score big: he has to rob the safety deposit boxes of the Baker Street Bank. Terry rounds up a bunch of his old lowlife friends and sets to work on tunneling into the bank from the basement of a nearby storefront. When they rob the boxes, however, they discover much more than just some quid and jewels...
It would be a mistake to go into The Bank Job expecting the usual Jason Statham fare. There aren't any sweet car chases involving a parking garage and a helicopter. There aren't any creative fight sequences involving improvised weapons and motor oil. Oh yeah, and no one has sex in the middle of Chinatown. Instead, Statham plays a reserved, down-on-his-luck ex-criminal who decides to take on a bank job more complicated than anything else he's previously tackled. It's a different kind of role for Statham, but it's a performance that suits him perfectly.
The same can be said for just about every role in The Bank Job. The film feels authentic through-and-through, no matter what geeky anachronisms people post about on IMDb. The actors, the costumes, the sets, and even the dialogue are straight out of the early '70s. It's a period piece that manages to escape much of the obvious trappings of more overbearing period pieces. In The Bank Job, people are actually wearing clothes from the previous decade as well as the '70s, cars actually look used, and characters represent a wide variety of styles and trends of the time. The casting is also spot-on, with the majority of the actors really looking like people living in 1971 London, rather than Jolly Rogers at a costume party. And while I know nothing about the various types of English accents, which vary according to region, from what I've heard this film is very accurate. The only thing that does feel out of place, however, is J. Peter Robinson's score, which mixes '70s funk, melodramatic orchestration, and techno to varying degrees of success.
Director Roger Donaldson (Cocktail) does a fantastic job of pulling these various periodic details together and keeping the look of the film consistent and interesting. The picture has a cold, washed-out color palette most of the time, and a nice level of graininess (despite being filmed digitally), that makes it feel even more retro. Donaldson keeps things fairly conservative, however, and much of the camera framing is simple and pragmatic. His direction isn't anything to write home about, but it's strong enough to produce a look that's a little different from most heist flicks.
Donaldson discusses in the special features his love for making movies based on real events. This is usually a dangerous prospect, because often times the pacing of events is predetermined. There's only so much you can make up before reality turns into fiction, and The Bank Job walks a very fine line. The first half of the film, which sets up the various criminals and plotlines, feels tedious and confusing. There's a bunch of British politicians into S&M, a militant descendant of Malcolm X, a bunch of strip club owners, crooked cops, porn stars, con men, etc. They're all introduced and interwoven to the point where I began to get a little lost -- and all I wanted to see was a bank robbery. Thankfully, just as I was reaching my breaking point, Terry assembles his team and gets to work.
I knew I had seen this "tunnel under the bank" plot before: I love Woody Allen's Small Time Crooks, which for all intents and purposes parodies the very robbery plan used in The Bank Job -- only this time around no one struck a water line and flooded the place. Once the gang breaks into the bank, the film kicks in to high gear. Their discoveries in the safety deposit boxes (which include plenty of blackmail-able evidence) put them in the crosshairs of the police, MI5, gangsters and pretty much everyone else you meet at the beginning of the film. I found all of this to be much more interesting and clever than the first half of the movie, which in turn made the entire film feel uneven.
The film's standard definition transfer looks and sounds perfectly fine. The colors and detail all looked great in 2.35:1 widescreen. The sound, which comes in stereo and Dolby Digital EX Surround, is also well done. This isn't a film that pushes any boundaries with the video and audio, but it does what it needs to in order to get the job done.
This special two-disc edition comes with a bunch of extra features on the first disc, and a second disc devoted entirely to a digital copy of the film. I haven't had a reason to really use any of these digital copies just yet, but if it stops people from pirating the film for their iPods, it's cool. The extra features on disc one include two cool featurettes, one about the making of the movie and the other about the actual bank robbery in '71. There are also a bunch of deleted scenes (that you can only watch all at once) that come with optional commentary. Finally, there is a complete audio commentary with director Roger Donaldson, Saffron Burrows, and composer J. Peter Robinson. It's a rather strange group that yields little in the way of interesting info about the film.
The Bank Job is absolutely one of Statham's best acting roles, even if his trademark physicality is held back a bit. But the film suffers from far too many characters and angles, and the inclusion of the Michael X storyline feels disconnected from the rest of the plot. It's understandable that Donaldson wanted to include every aspect of the true story (even though he also made up a bunch of stuff), but it doesn't appear to be streamlined or explained as well as it could have been. As a result, the drama of the film is softened and I end up not caring about a single character.
I also find issue with the way The Bank Job, other similar recent releases, promote themselves as two-disc special editions with a bonus digital copy of the film. It's great to have a digital copy, but it is also the only reason for the second disc. Essentially you're paying for a single-disc version of the movie that comes with a second copy of the film. So for a bit of buying advice, the special features on this film don't make it a better movie, and if you don't care about the digital copy then you might as well go for the standard single-disc release.
The Bank Job is a well-made period piece and a half-good heist flick. If you can sit through the first forty minutes or so, you'll be rewarded with a more entertaining second half. There's a lot to like about the movie (the acting, the set and costume design, the directing), and there's also plenty that will grate on your nerves (the confusing abundance of warring factions, a cheesy score, characters you barely get to know but are told to care about).
It's hard to recommend this double-disc edition, unless it becomes the de-facto DVD release for the movie. The special features are decent, even if the commentary is a bore, and if you dig digital-editions then at least you've got that. If none of that is appealing, then stick with the single-disc release.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Digital Copy
* Audio Commentary with Director Roger Donaldson, Actress Saffron Burrows, and Composer J. Peter Robinson
* "Inside the Bank Job"
* "The Baker Street Bank Raid"
* Deleted Scenes