'Job' does what it's hired to do

Reeling It In

Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2008

"The Bank Job"

Lions Gate Entertainment

1 hour, 50 minutes

It's strange to think about the way we used to have conversations as compared to now.

For example, a group of friends might be sitting around the living room discussing old movies and a discrepancy arises as to who was the oldest person to star in the old-actor extravaganza "Cocoon." Your friend insists it was Hume Cronyn, while you are certain it was his wife, Jessica Tandy. Yet another member of the group chimes in that it must have been Wilford Brimley, whose perpetually grouchy demeanor must belie advanced age.

Fifteen years ago, the conversation would have to end in a stalemate, with each person sullenly agreeing to disagree. Today, the question can be answered in 10 seconds by logging onto the Internet Movie Database.

I bring this up because of the whole idea of a movie being based on a true story. In the past it was possible to get away with greater liberties in storytelling because, who's going to know? Today, with about a million "Hollywood: Fact or Fiction" sites out there, filmmakers are held to a higher standard. This week's review, a wild heist story, appropriately titled "The Bank Job," is just such a "true story."

How true the story is I'll leave to you and your friends to argue out, but I'll say this: If it's accurate, then truth really is stranger than fiction.

It's 1970. The story opens with an unnamed trio enjoying themselves rather explicitly in a Caribbean paradise. Unbeknownst to the lovers, someone is snapping pictures. These pictures, of a certain woman of importance to the British government, eventually find their way into the hands of a vicious pimp and drug dealer posing as a black activist named Michael X, London's supposed answer to America's Malcolm.

The photos are to be used as a "get out of jail free card," but the British Secret Service has other plans.

On the assumption that the photos are being held in a safe deposit box in a London bank, a group of criminals are engaged, without any direct knowledge of who is setting them up, to rob the bank and loot all the safety deposit boxes. Little do they know there is more hidden in those boxes than they bargained for. Enough, in fact, to bring down the government and the police force at the highest levels.

Now, with far more trouble than they bargained for, the robbers are on the run for their lives, being pursued by the good guys and bad.

"The Bank Job" is a good old-fashioned heist thriller stocked with colorful and seedy characters, snappy, yet quirky British dialogue and enough intrigue to keep you riveted to your seat.

The acting, while not necessarily Oscar caliber, is first-rate for this kind of movie, anchored by lead Jason Statham. Statham's career started promisingly enough with two other wacky British heist films, "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," and "Snatch." Lately, however, he's been known for throw-away American action trash, rapidly heading for a career more reminiscent of Steven Seagal's. It was nice to see him in a good movie again.

It's the writing in a movie like this that really shines. Not only does the dialogue have to ring true, but the plot has to weave together several disparate groups, each intent on their own agenda, to a successful conclusion. The writers achieve this feat, though the end does seem to tie up rather neatly for real life.

Really, though, my only complaint about the film is more of a question of identity. At times the film is a wacky heist story, but at other times it's deadly serious. In a movie like this you get used to a certain level of violence, and you kind of know what to expect.

"The Bank Job" veers around on the level of seriousness it employs, so you get the feeling that, at times, it's either taking itself too seriously or not serious enough. I suppose this could be the problem with adapting real life, especially real life as bizarre as this.

I will say, though the movie is rated R, there are some who may see the advertising and expect something relatively light-hearted on the level of "The Bourne Identity" or "The Thomas Crowne Affair." There's plenty of violence, language and nudity to earn the rating the film has received, so be forewarned.

That said, it's refreshing to watch a movie that feels like the times in which it's set, with colorful and rounded characters and an engaging and exciting plot. As to the question of the film's veracity, I think ultimately it's not all that important. Entertainment is what it is, the rest is trivia. Grade: B+

"The Bank Job" is rated R for language, violence, nudity and sexual situations.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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