Jason Statham and Saffron Burrows in The Bank Job
It begins in the early 1970s with a spider’s web of complications including a surreptitiously photographed threesome in the Caribbean; a two-bit car dealer who owes too much money to the wrong people; a pretty ex-model “in a spot of bother” after getting pinched at Heathrow airport with drugs in her suitcase; several powerful government officials being filmed cavorting inside a brothel; the local kingpin of pornography with a ledger of the regular payoffs he makes to the corrupt London police; and finally, a pimp, drug dealer and all-around thug who has installed himself leader of the London Black Power movement under investigation by the authorities. How they all tie in to an audacious £3 million true-life bank robbery is the subject of The Bank Job, a decent new heist movie directed by New Zealand’s Roger Donaldson (No Way Out, The World’s Fastest Indian).
At the center of the web are the car dealer, Jason Statham (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), and the ex-model, Saffron Burrows (Circle of Friends). They’re old flames and she recruits him and his band of sketchy friends to help her rob the safe deposit boxes of the Lloyd’s Bank on Baker Street in London. This quick setup is followed by the inevitable forming of the plan and the building of the team. Ultimately of course there is the suspensefully executed heist which goes down entertainingly, but the real fun begins with the aftermath. Burrows it seems hasn’t told her partners the whole story. Safe deposit boxes can sometimes be used to protect more than just valuables. They can also hide secrets and secrets are what threaten to pull the spider web apart and to get Statham, Burrows and their team into deeper trouble than they’d bargained for.
These are the basic ingredients of what amounts to a satisfying genre entry that has been competently and entertainingly mounted. Unfortunately, the elements don’t quite come together and while The Bank Job is adequate, it’s never really exceptional, instead joining a long line of caper films that don’t stand out from the crowd. Of course, for fans of the genre, sometimes routine is good enough. In this case, it is, but I was left wanting a little bit more.
The problem begins with the assorted subplots. They’re never confusing, but they tend to diffuse interest until the climax when things finally come together. The business with true-life Black Power leader Michael X seems especially out of place, underdeveloped and a little silly. It’s a key to the unfolding of the story, but following it through to its resolution feels like a waste of time when our real interest is in Burrows and Statham.
For their part, the two leads don’t quite sizzle like they should. Perhaps it’s the scattered story or maybe it’s a lack of chemistry between the actors. Whatever it is, they’re both likeable enough, but their romantic past doesn’t lead to the fireworks you’d expect. In this case the fuse is lit, but the powder is damp and, ultimately, the resolution between them doesn’t have the impact it should.
The rest of the characters don’t fair that much better. In a classic of the genre, they’d be well-defined, intriguing and memorable. Here they’re a bit flat and the performances don’t really stand out. David Suchet (TV’s Poirot) makes the strongest impression as the pornographer Lewis Vogel and a couple of the minor characters, Sharon Maughan as the brothel madam and Hattie Morahan as a young rich girl in Michael X’s inner circle offer promise, but their parts are much too small.
In another missed opportunity, the potentially intriguing early ’70s London milieu is little more than set dressing. It provides the moral climate, the clothing style and snatches of soundtrack including T. Rex’s Bang a Gong (Get it On) and The Kinks’ Lola, but it never really comes to life in a vibrant way. It’s fertile territory and I would’ve liked to have seen it better utilized.
Despite my reservations, The Bank Job is an entertaining enough caper picture. With an R rating and an emphasis on suspense over action, it’s aimed at a more adult audience than Jason Statham’s typical fan base and this is for the better. Had it delivered stronger characters with more chemistry and taken better advantage of its setting, it could’ve been something special. As it is, it’s not perfect but it should satisfy genre fans until something better comes along.
The Bank Job. USA 2008. Directed by Roger Donaldson. Written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. Cinematography by Michael Coulter. Music composed by J. Peter Robinson. Starring Jason Statham, Saffron Burrows, Stephen Campbell Moore, Daniel Mays and David Suchet. 1 hour 41 minutes. MPAA rated R for sexual content, nudity, violence and language. 3 stars (out of 5)
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