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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Bank Heist

Double-crossed in London

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The Bank Job delivers all the pleasures expected from a crime-heist picture. Dense with duplicity and colored in many shades of gray, The Bank Job concerns a motley gang tunneling into a bank vault. They work with an elaborate plan they won’t be able to fully execute because criminal masterminds are scarce. Moreover, the crooks are pawns in a larger scheme whose purposes they discover only after the final turnoff has been passed. The road they are on will lead to a pileup.

Set in early ’70s London, The Bank Job stars Jason Statham (The Italian Job) as Terry, a Cockney car dealer in hock to angry loan sharks, and Saffron Burrows (Enigma) as Martine, the woman who offers an exit from the trap his life has become. A one-time model who grew up on the same end of town as Terry, Martine was busted at Heathrow for drug running. Her chance to wiggle free is provided by MI5, Britain’s version of the FBI. She must organize a bank robbery in order to secure the contents of a certain safe-deposit box. She turns to Terry, whose small-time skullduggery with his mates hasn’t prepared him for the task at hand. For Terry, the robbery could be his one lucky break or his undoing, a ticket to freedom, prison or even death.

The safe-deposit box belongs to a black militant from the West Indies, Michael X, the darling of London’s radical chic. He is also a pimp, a pusher, a slumlord and a murderer. The government has been loath to prosecute him because of the cache of photos he secreted in the bank vault, including incriminating scenes of debauchery involving cabinet ministers and Princess Margaret. MI5 wants those black-market pictures to disappear so the case against Michael X can press forward.

Terry knows nothing of this, nor of the pornography kingpin whose ledger in an adjacent lockbox falls into his hands, nor of the corrupt vice squad cops whose bribes are detailed in the account book. MI5 and the underworld are ranged against him and his dwindling band of companions, lads of varying intelligence and fortitude. The Bank Job moves swiftly from scene to scene, investing many of its characters with a certain pathos and gravity. There are regrets, roads not taken, the passing of time to consider and lines that at least some criminals hesitate to cross. Statham brings tense swagger and nervous dignity to Terry, who has always looked up at life’s possibilities from the bottom stair step. Martine conveys a jasmine-scented touch of the exotic in the freewheeling cosmopolitan culture of the era. Implicit in The Bank Job’s back-story is that people were having more fun in that time when wired referred to drugs, not Internet technology. Chatting up a woman at the bar must have been better than sending a text message.