"I was once good at thieving."
Nick Nolte's recent return to the spotlight of the press hasn't been under the best of circumstances—unless you consider being arrested for driving under the influence (of alcohol? of drugs?) a good thing. As far as I know, Nolte wasn't drunk but was high, but I'll admit I could be wrong; and I don't think his case has gone to trial yet. So, with this little nugget of gossip firmly lodged in my brain, it put an interesting spin on The Good Thief—which will be apparent once we get to the "Facts of the Case." Also, I've never been a huge fan of Nolte's work. While I've seen him in quite a few movies, none of them would be considered personal favorites; in fact, I've never had the urge to see a movie just because Nolte was in it. I enjoy his work, yet I've never been amazed by him. So, as I prepared to view this movie, I didn't have great expectations.
Facts of the Case
Bob (Nick Nolte, Hulk, The Prince of Tides, 48 Hours) is a washed-up thief. He was the best, but he's past his prime and now the most he can do is gamble. His life is on a downward spiral of bad luck, and his gambling is slowly eroding his amassed wealth. Day after day, he loses at poker, he loses at roulette, and he loses in life—for he's now addicted to heroin. The bright spot in Bob's life is the fact that he has many friends. "Everyone" in Nice knows Bob and likes him; everyone except for Roger, a member of the constabulary who has arrested Bob at least a half dozen times since Bob moved to France. Admittedly, even Roger has a small glimmer of admiration for Bob, especially after Bob saves his life during a botched takedown at a local bar.
Even during the worst run of luck in his life, his friends remember Bob's greater days. It's with these memories that Paul comes to Bob with a daunting proposition: to rob the Casino Riviera, so called because it's located in the French Riviera. It's a thief's dream, but only a dream, as the security is impenetrable. But Paul has a new twist to the age-old fantasy: they're not going to rob the safe; they're going to steal the artwork in the casino. Newly owned by a Japanese conglomerate, the Riviera has been refurbished to appeal to a new clientele; and the addition of works by Picasso, Monet, and other masters throughout the gaming floor adds even more class to the establishment.
Bob knows this is a bad idea, but he is brought in to tour the Riviera. As he and Paul explore, Bob instantly realizes the art are all fakes. Paul knows this as well, and he informs Bob that all of the art is locked up in the Japanese embassy—a building that boasts an impressive security system, but is far more vulnerable to attack.
Believing the impossible is possible, Bob agrees to bring the old group back together for the heist of a lifetime. With Roger always on his tail, Bob must devise the perfect plan to steal the art from the Japanese without tipping his hand to the hounding detective. But Bob's bad luck has been consistent, so is this the right move right now? Can Bob devise the perfect plan? Can he steal millions of dollars in art from the Japanese? Can this aging, addicted gambler break his losing streak?
The Score. Heist. The Italian Job. Ocean's 11. The Thomas Crown Affair. These are just a few movies with the same basic core of an idea: the great and impossible robbery. Each movie comes at the subject differently, yet each seems to focus more energy on the theft than on the characters. Usually. But in the case of The Good Thief, the upcoming job at the Riviera is almost a footnote to the story as we focus on Bob and his life. Who is Bob? What are his problems? How did he get here? Where is he going? The path to attempting to pull off one of the greatest robberies in France is used to illustrate Bob and how he got to this point. Further, beyond getting rich, this job is a means to betterment. Bob realizes how low he has sunk, and this job will be his last. He will make every effort to reclaim some of his former glory and former self.
And that does set this film apart from most others in that it takes the time to work on character development. Bob is more than that great old thief who's lost his way. Bob is a complex character with tangible issues and problems, which parallels interestingly to Nolte's real life. Did he not see the pain his character suffered in this film? Did he not realize what drugs could do to you? How could he portray such a role and not see it relate to the addictions in his real life? Well, who knows? Life is quite complicated.
Though we do spend a great deal of time with Bob, unfortunately the same attention to detail is forgotten for most of the other characters. They are your typical one-note players who are there simply to fulfill a specific purpose in the film. While a few are interesting, most are lifeless and commonplace. One of the characters who truly deserved more meat is Roger, Bob's police shadow. Hinted at along the way, these two are purported to have a great history; but their present is all but a shallow representation. Why is Roger really so obsessed with Bob? How did they end up as best enemies? Why is there such respect between the two? A spot more attention to Roger's life could have really notched up the tension a few respectable levels.
I'm not going to go into details about the robbery in the Riviera Casino; however, I do need to comment on the surprising resolution. In each of the films that I listed at the beginning of this section, there's a twist (or numerous twists) along the way. Each twist leads to the hero proving that he is smarter than the protagonist, and he has anticipated every potential threat against him. He lets you believe you have the upper hand, but wait until the end and you'll see that your position isn't as secure as you thought. However, in The Good Thief, while our hero, Bob, believes he's devised an ingenious plan to elude Roger and steal the art from the casino, his position possibly isn't as secure as he thinks. Once things get rolling on the night of the robbery, the events unfold quite unpredictably. The film has its own unique twist up its sleeve, and it's quite satisfying. I didn't see it coming, and it left a big smile on my face. Throwing twists at an audience so that the movie isn't as predictable as you thought is something I applaud. Far too many films are purely formulaic, and the more films that work to break the mold, the better.
The Good Thief offers you both an anamorphic widescreen and a full screen transfer on opposite sides of the disc. As you wisely eschew the latter, the widescreen print is well done. Sporting accurate but slightly soft colors, rich blacks, sharp details, and good contrast, the video looks about as good as it should for a film that barely made a blip on the release radar in 2003. I didn't notice any transfer errors to mar the presentation. About the only "problem" I could detect with the transfer, if it is indeed a problem with the transfer, is that as the movie cuts from one scene to the next (or cuts from angle to angle), it "freezes" on the last frame of the cut for a split second. This happens quite often and is extremely noticeable. Is this is an error or is an artistic choice? To me, it's an error, but I'm not sure where the blame should fall. The audio portion of our presentation is a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. Though I had a touch of difficulty in understanding the dialogue at the beginning of the film, I believe that's more in adapting to Nolte's gravelly voice and the abundance of French accents. As I acclimated to each of these, I found the dialogue quite clear and understandable. The movie itself doesn't offer many opportunities for the surrounds and subwoofer to come alive, but they do their thing in a few instances.
The disc offers a small assortment of bonus materials, which are spaced on both sides of the disc, to supplement the film. First up are a group of seven deleted scenes from the film, with optional commentary by director Neil Jordan (Interview with the Vampire, The Crying Game, Michael Collins)—who, not so incidentally, did excellent work in putting this film together. Par for the course, the deleted scenes certainly don't add anything to the story and were very wise subtractions; they would have contributed nothing to the characters as all we saw were more scenes of drug use. Next up is an audio commentary with Neil Jordan. This is a good commentary that gives you a nice mix of information and background on the film. Nothing I'll ever listen to again, the track was enjoyable but not the best out there. And, last, we have a six-minute "making of" featurette titled "To Film a 'Thief'." I found this to be nothing more than a typical and brief fluff piece on the film. It doesn't impart important information, but it certainly does ruin a few of the better plot points.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There's a character named Anne who plays a semi-pivotal role in the film. She's a 17-year-old girl who has found herself in dire straights, and it's Bob who comes to her unwitting rescue. Given how instrumental she is in helping Bob make the dramatic changes necessary in his life, Anne is poorly represented. Not that I have any problems with the actress, it's more with the fact that this young girl eventually comes to lust after Bob, a man 45 years her elder. The proverbial May-December romances never work for me in a film, but I am pleased to say that Bob wisely does not give in to the young girl's advances.
Due to a strong performance by Nolte and a thoroughly satisfying twist and resolution, I give The Good Thief a solid recommendation. It's a film that doesn't start off particularly strong, but it develops into a solid character piece by the end. I think I must temper my recommendation by stating that this film probably isn't a keeper, so you'll likely do well to rent it first to see if it meshes with your tastes. Nicely surprised by the movie, I'm further surprised that it didn't have a life in theaters. Is it the fault of Mr. Nolte and his less-than-stellar off screen notoriety that killed this film? Whatever the truth is, The Good Thief deserves the chance it never received.
Le Bon Voleur est par ceci trouvé non coupable sur tous les comptes. Toutes les parties sont libres pour entrer et participer au jeu luxueux sur la Côte d'Azur.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by Director Neil Jordan
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