Beyond the usual components of the typical heist flick [gathering the team; making the plans; dealing with unforeseen circumstances], The Bank Job pulls off the enviable stunt of dealing with four layers of prying eyes on the way to its unusually inventive conclusion – and making its ‘70s time period feel right.
Terry Leather [Jason Statham] is a former lower-class villain who has gotten his life together, set up shop as dealer of quality cars and married and started a family. Although he was never the sort to go for the big score, a seemingly chance encounter with an ex, Martine Love [Saffron Burrows], leads to his thinking about taking on a bank job of epic [for him] proportion – a job that should, in theory, be foolproof.
Naturally, Terry’s team puts this to the test. The idea is to tunnel under the bank vault from a closed shop two doors over [and what’s up with all the tunnelling in British heist flicks? Is it some kind of national fetish or something?]. If they’ve planned it right, they’ll come up in the room that contains the bank’s safety deposit boxes – filled with stuff [gems, money, ledgers, and such] that no one will be willing to identify [otherwise, why have it in a box that even the bank’s management can’t open?].
Of course, there’s stuff Terry doesn’t know – and Martine does. The contents of box 1818 – its connection to a phoney Black Power scammer and the part it plays in holding the Royal Family [gasp!] on the brink of scandal; the secret ledger of a local porn king [played without a hint of iron by David Suchet] that logs his payoffs to corrupt coppers, and even how Martine really came up with this scheme – all of these things are unknown to Terry.
The end result is a bank job where the thieves are being watched by MI5 [or 6, nobody seems able to tell the two apart]; a ham radio operator intercepts communications between the team and their lookout [walkie-talkies and ham radios are the extent of the period’s cutting edge technology], and notifies the police. Then you have the porn king and the Black Power guy [who’s also suspected of several murders] all applying pressure from other directions.
Given the lack of hi-tech equipment, the X-factor that puts Terry and Martine’s plan – the ham radio – in danger is such a perfect note… and since the film is loosely based on the robbery of a bank on Baker Street [shades of Sherlock Holmes, eh, wot?], a robbery in which the money was never recovered and no one was ever charged, the way things play out in The Bank Job could actually be what happened!
That The Bank Job is such a lovely, layered piece of work can be attributed, in part, to the scriptwriting team of Dick Clement [The Commitments, Lovejoy] and Ian La Franais [Spender, Lovejoy], who are especially skilled at writing scamps and rascals. The rest of the blame lies with director Roger Donaldson [Species, The World’s Fastest Indian], who knew that this piece was as much about the characters and the layers of the piece and kept the pacing back a bit from what one expects in a heist flick.
The result is a film that takes a bizarre historical situation and imagines how it might have played – at a pace that fits its ‘70s timeframe [though there are a few places where Donaldson could have picked things up a tad, the film’s pace is mostly perfect] and its ragtag team of thieves. It’s worth noting that Statham gives his best performance since Snatch and makes one wonder why he isn’t an A-list presence – at least in action and suspense movies.
Final Grade: B+