A Forgotten Heist Gets a Welcome Reminder

Maui Time | March 3, 2008
The Bank Job is a good old-fashioned bank heist movie that's based on a 1971 London robbery in which a Lloyds Bank vault was emptied while the city slept. Jason Statham plays Terry Leather, a petty criminal turned family man who jumps at the chance to take a surge in income when his childhood friend Martine (played by Saffron Burrows) hatches a bank job that's too good to be true. Terry gathers together his old mates for the task of tunneling into the bank's safety deposit vault without knowing Martine's interest in the cryptic photographic contents of one specific box. Director Roger Donaldson is most famous for directing Tom Cruise in Cocktail, and he does a good job of capturing swinging London of the early '70s, while ratcheting up suspense in a story that exposes the layers of political scandal behind one of the biggest bank heists ever committed.

Jason Statham built his career as the go-to-Brit-gangster on Guy Ritchie's iconic Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000), so there's a tendency to anticipate The Bank Job as a more crude punch-up picture than it is. Statham has evolved as an actor, even within the low ceiling of his typecast character, and brings a level of humility to his role. Terry has a family to provide for, and he trusts his ability to gauge his actions off of the deceptively attractive Martine, whose knack for keeping secrets is more transparent than she imagines. Early on Martine is taken away by police for smuggling drugs before being rescued by her MI5 lover Tim Everett (Richard Lintern) to recruit a team of thieves from her old East End neighborhood to execute a tacitly government-endorsed heist in exchange for keeping her out of jail.

For 30 years the British Government exercised a "D-Notice" gag order on the press to contain details surrounding the so-called "walky-talky bank job," for which no suspects were ever indicted. The heist got its name from the intrusion of a ham radio operator who listened in on a conversation between a lookout and the robbers as they bagged over 30 million pounds worth of cash and jewelry. But what gives The Bank Job its zing is the reason the House of Parliament ordered its MI5 officers to quietly arrange the robbery to obtain incriminating sex photos taken of an unnamed royal princess by a radical black extremist leader called Michael X (Peter De Jersey). The inclusion of photos of a Parliament judge engaging in some tame BDSM only added to the necessity for a cover-up.

Roger Donaldson adds an appropriate layer of campy sexyness with some obligatory nudity, and the use of songs like T-Rex's "Bang a Gong," to inform the free love aspect of the era. The British powers were so distressed about the photos getting out that they sent one of their own daughters, Gale Benson (Hattie Morahan), to act as a spy by shacking up with Michael X at his home in Trinidad to look for clues. However, the government's plan was derailed by the inclusion of a police bribe ledger kept in one of the security boxes by local crime kingpin Lew Vogel (David Suchet). Intent on regaining the ledger, Vogel enacts his own post-robbery investigation that ups the ante on the government's involvement.

Screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais have successfully endeavored to bring color to a gray area of British history by including the story's equal parts of humor, drama, and tragedy that spanned from the empty pockets of a bunch of working class blokes to the corridors of British power. The Bank Job takes liberties with historic truth, but probably far less than were taken at the time of the infamous Baker Street crime. This might make the Downing Street Memos look tame, but there's a lot more humor here.

Rated R, 111 mins. (B)

Maui Time

Maui Time Weekly provides insightful analysis and in depth reporting. We believe some issues are so important they require thoughtful consideration. We are not a “paper of record”—a daily journal of government meetings, ribbon-cuttings and corporate announcements. We decide what’s...
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