Judge Gordon Sullivan has a gig painting a certain famous wall.
A firm, a match, a heist.
It is pretty much a universal truism that where there is a port, there is crime. Because of the rapid turnover of personnel and the numerous opportunities to make a buck, ports attract all kinds of corruption. The British Isles were at the center of worldwide shipping for quite a while, long enough to develop an intricate network of criminal organizations, especially in London. This has led to a lot of famous gangsters (like the Kray twins) and lots of fiction about gangsters. The gangster movie is especially popular, and is a genre that gets produced with clockwork regularity in the British film industry. We can add Berlin Job to the list of B-level crime flicks from those island shores. It tries valiantly to be an engaging crime/heist flick, but instead comes off as second-rate Guy Ritchie. For genre fans that might not be so bad, but for the average moviegoer this is probably a dud.
Mannock (Frank Haper, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and Collishaw (Craig Fairbrass, The Bank Job) are two of London's unluckiest crooks: they've just lost a shipment of Russian drugs, and the cops are also on their tale. They decide that pulling a heist in Berlin, a heist that has to happen on St. George's Day, is the only way they're getting out of the life alive. To make matter worse, they might have an informant in their midst.
When Guy Ritchie came along in the late '90s, he seemed like a fresh, not to mention frenetic, talent. He was obviously steeped in classic British crime pictures like Get Carter and The Long Good Friday, but even when he stole their techniques—the zoom, the colors, the crimes—his editing and emphasis made films like Snatch feels surprisingly new. He reinvigorated a genre that had languished for too long and brought it, kicking and screaming, into the twenty-first century.
Since Snatch, Guy Ritchie has set his sights on other conquests (including the worldwide box office with his involvement in the Sherlock Holmes franchise), but others have been playing in his sandbox now that he's gone. Frank Harper is obviously one of those guys, an actor who got to see the master at work during Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and with Berlin Job as his directorial debut, shows he owes Ritchie a debt or two. Obviously the London criminal world is the first clue that we're in classic Brit-crime territory, and the idea of a pair of guys up to their eyeballs in debt to the wrong people should also seem familiar. However, the real giveaway is that the first 30 or so minutes of Berlin Job consist largely of the introduction of characters. We get freeze-frames on the characters while our narrator describes who they are and how they relate to the job at hand.
That's the rub with Berlin Job: we've seen it all before, and with bigger names involved. Though this flick boasts some familiar faces (Charles Dance, Sean Pertwee), it doesn't have the star power of Snatch. That means that viewers are getting a kind of Guy Ritchie-lite. Which is another way of saying that while films like Snatch had a wide appeal outside the target demo of those who love London crime flicks, Berlin Job is unlikely to make it out of the foreign-crime ghetto.
For fans of British action films, that's not a knock on the film. It's not like Guy Ritchie cornered the market on British crime or the use of voiceover, and those techniques can be deployed effectively by other directors. Those fans willing to put up with a little bit of familiarity about the story and presentation will find a decent little crime thriller lurking in Berlin Job. The performances are a bit outsized, and the budget a bit tight, but the quick-cut construction of much of the action makes for a satisfying film if viewers have modest expectations.
Whatever its place in the British crime pantheon, Berlin Job (Blu-ray) is decent. The feature was shot digitally, so this 2.40:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer gets loads of rich detail. Sparks fly out of guns and lines are worn on gangsters' faces with impressive clarity. Colors are well-saturated as well, and black levels stay consistent and deep. The DTS-HD 5.1 audio track keeps the voiceover clear and audible in the front, while the surrounds take over for action sequences. Subtitles are included for those who have trouble with British accents.
Extras include a standard 20-minute making of and the film's trailer.
As a directorial debut for actor Frank Harper, Berlin Job is a decent slice of British crime. It won't break out for non-genre fans, but those who go in with modest expectations will find their time rewarded with a fine enough heist flick.
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