Monday, April 07, 2008

The Bank Job

Fact: in 1971, the biggest bank robbery in British history took place in London, while the police searched frantically for it, having been tipped off by a ham radio operator who heard the radio conversations among the robbers. They didn't figure out which bank, however, until the following Monday morning, when the safe deposit vault of the Lloyd's branch at Baker and Marylebone was discovered looted.

Fact: four days after the robbery, it completely and abruptly dropped out of the newspapers.

Now tell me, don't you want to know the rest of the story?

The Bank Job is a fictionalized retelling of the tale of the "Walkie-Talkie Robbery," and it is a thriller from the first frame to the last. At its heart is Martine, a beautiful woman with a secret (Saffron Burrows) who persuades some old pals from her working-class youth that she has information that will allow them to carry out a perfect bank job. Chief among these old pals is Terry Leather (Jason Statham), a bloke who is losing his business to thugs after he borrows money from the wrong people. There is sexual tension between these two that is not resolved until the end of the film, and that tension adds to the tension that builds in every aspect of the story.

Terry is the alpha male in a little gang of buddies who have a past as small time crooks. Martine has become involved, thanks to a drug deal gone wrong, with a much spiffier bunch of big time spooks from MI5. Tangled in the resulting mess are a porn king, a black activist/pimp, a bunch of cops gone bad, and an assortment of British bluebloods who have been very, very naughty but don't want to pay the piper.

It's also a snapshot of London in 1971: the economic woes of the nearly desperate working class collide with the ennui of the gentry and their little foibles. This is England before Iron Lady Thatcher, before Princess Di, the England of empire past and inedible cuisine. It feels utterly authentic, all the details exactly right, from the reel-to-reel tape recorder to the "Free Angela Davis" poster decaying on a wall. Tawdry and gritty in almost every way (and I will not spoil it by explaining the qualifier "almost") the story has been done justice by the filmmakers.

The screenplay was written by Dick Clement and Ian LeFrenais, a British screenwriting duo not well known to American audiences, and the film was directed by Roger Donaldson.

Thumb's up -- it's a great ride.


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