All signs pointed to “The Bank Job” being a disappointment. For starters, the movie stars Jason Statham who, like him or not, does far more bad movies than good ones (his last film was directed by critical punching bag Uwe Boll, yikes). The movie’s second strike: the dreaded Thursday night screening, timed so print publications cannot get their reviews submitted in time for Friday’s paper. But then a funny thing happened: the movie turned out to be pretty damn good. Credit director Roger Donaldson, himself no stranger to the occasional box office dud (“The Recruit,” “Cadillac Man”), for keeping Statham’s eye on the prize.
The year is 1971, and Statham is Terry Leather, a small-time London crook who runs an auto shop but is deep in debt. He needs cash, and quick, and former flame Martine (Saffron Burrows) comes to his rescue with a big-time proposition: knock off a Baker Street bank. She knows that the bank is getting a new security system and is currently operating without one, so she convinces Terry to get his crew together to dig underneath the bank from an empty shop two doors down and hit the safety deposit box vault. What Terry doesn’t know is that Martine is doing this as a plea deal with MI5, in order to avoid arrest on a drug charge. Terry and his crew can keep whatever they want (provided they don’t get caught, of course); MI5 is only interested in the contents of the deposit box owned by Michael X (Peter De Jersey), a black militant leader who possesses naked photographs of a member of the Royal Family, which he uses as blackmail in order to stay out of trouble. The problem is that the bank also contains the deposit boxes of a strip club owner Lew Vogel (David Suchet) and local madam Sonia Bern (Sharon Maughan). Once word is out that their assets are on the street, MI5 becomes the last concern of Terry and his crew.
Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ script, a few groaner lines of dialogue aside, does two very smart things: the first is getting the robbery out of the way relatively early. Unlike “Inside Man” or “Dog Day Afternoon,” the robbery itself is merely the setup to the movie’s true action. The other smart move is putting every character in play to shifting alliances. What allows that to work convincingly is the fact that everyone in the movie is dirty. The protagonists are crooks, and everyone else (save one character) is corrupt or compromised in some way. David Mamet movies don’t sport this many double-crosses.
Perhaps Statham should go the ensemble route more often. When it is not required of him to carry a movie, he seems much more relaxed and convincing as an actor. (Don’t worry; he still gets the chance to kick some butt.) Burrows has little to do but be Statham’s bait, a task she performs rather effortlessly. The MI5 superiors appear to be playing their roles satirically at times, which is jarring. David Suchet’s scenes are amusing in their banality; for a guy that’s tied into some dirty deeds, he’s hilariously bored by it all. Terry’s crew, along with his wife and kids, are window dressing, but they do well enough to not be a distraction.
For those hitting the multiplexes this weekend, do not hesitate to choose “The Bank Job” over Roland Emmerich’s dreadfully dull “10,000 BC.” Warts and all, it is far more entertaining, and shows that Statham is indeed capable of vaulting to the next level, provided he become a tad choosier. Seriously, Jason, does the world really need “Transporter 3”? More to the point, does “Transporter 3” need you? Time to move up and move on.(3.5 / 5)