There are only so many heist movies a person can see before they all start blending together and feeling old-hat. Unless a filmmaker is particularly ambitious, aiming to break new ground or concentrate on something larger or deeper than the theft itself, the success of a film in this genre relies solely on how enthralling it is. "The Bank Job" passes this test. It might be based on a true storyand an impressive true story, at thatbut that doesn't make it anything more than a skillful exercise. Juggling a largely unknown ensemble and an easy to follow but no less labyrinthine plot, director Roger Donaldson (2003's "The Recruit
") makes sure the film's pacing rattles and shakes as he delivers a narrative that, instead of climaxing with the heist, only gets more intriguing once the money and valuables have been stolen.
Living on London's East Side, circa 1971, car dealer Terry Leather (Jason Statham) is a happily married husband and father with more than a few skeletons in his closet. When he is visited by the sultry Martine Love (Saffron Burrows), an alluring woman from his past, she proposes a seemingly foolproof get-rich-quick scheme that he finds impossible to pass up. Along with a few other carefully chosen accomplices, including Kevin Swain (Stephen Campbell Moore) and Dave Schilling (Daniel Mays), they rent out an empty store on the same block as Baker Street's Lloyds Bank and proceed to tunnel underground, below a fast-food chicken restaurant in between them, and finally up into the vault holding the safety deposit boxes. This plan would appear to go off without a hitch, but it doesn't stay that way for long. For one, Terry is convinced Martine has an ulterior motive for the robbery, and two, among the materials they steal are a pile of incriminating dirty secrets that guilty officials in power will do anything to keep under wraps.
"The Bank Job" gets off to a lively start with the prominent use of classic rock song "Get It On (Bang a Gong)" by T. Rex and keeps things moving thereafter as the heist business goes into effect. The film, which reminds of a serious version of 2000's Woody Allen comedy, "Small Time Crooks
," holds the viewer's interest through familiar material and somewhat bland characterizations. As the narrative thickens along with the amount of double-dealings going on, director Roger Donaldson and screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (2007's "Across the Universe
") exhibit a flair for setting up suspense set-pieces and diverting away from the most derivative of denouements. Unless one knows the real-life story beforehand, the way everything turns out is not immediately apparent, and that's appreciative.
The cast features two name actors and a lot of talented little-knowns, and there isn't a weak link among them. Jason Statham (2008's "In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
"), this decade's rising action star, has never been given the chance (or hasn't taken the chance) to show what kind of range he has. His role as Terry Leather isn't a huge step away from what he is known for, but he does exhibit a human side to his straight-faced persona that feels fresh. Statham is especially effective in the scenes he shares with wife Wendy (Keeley Hawes), who isn't exactly thrilled to be coming second to a criminal act he has planned with former flame Martine. Cool, calm and collected in the face of conflict, Saffron Burrows' (2007's "Reign Over Me
") Martine is arguably the most complicated of the characters, and her envy over what Wendy has and she never can is well-felt without the director needlessly dwelling on it.
"The Bank Job" will not be one of those movie that permeates in the viewer's mind for days after. It's an efficient, workmanlike effort, and sometimes even a little better than that, but it's neither innovative nor profound. As a conventional heist pic, enough is done to play with expectations that it proves worth a recommendation for adult audiences in search of something that won't insult their intelligence. Granted, "The Bank Job" won't enhance anyone's IQ, either, but sometimes a pulpy slice of crime thriller theatrics is all you need.