Jason Statham and Saffron Burrows in The Bank Job
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)

9 Responses to “Review: The Bank Job (2008) ***”

  1. Seems we have pretty much the same thoughts on this one, Craig, though it sounds like you enjoyed the post-robbery developments more than I did. I agree that the Michael X character was out of place, but my problem with him was with his acting more so than his presence. I don’t feel like anyone was really used to their potential, but at the same time it was well cast.

    I haven’t found anyone yet who’s found something “exceptional” about it. It’s not underwhelming and it’s not even disappointing, but it’s just another notch on the belt that we probably won’t remember in 6 months. Glad I saw it, glad it wasn’t worse, but I don’t know if I’ll take much from it.

  2. Perhaps it was Michael X’s acting more than anything, I just know he stood out and not in a good way.

    My expectations were pretty low so it’s not like I was disappointed, but it’s another example of a movie that could’ve offered a lot more. Ah well, they can’t all be winners and it’s not like I bypassed something amazing for it.

  3. I am always disappointed by films like this, I am just not a fan of heist movies. I kind of enjoyed Inside Man, but that was it. I strongly dislike Jason Statham for some reason too. I guess I don’t have to want to see them all.

  4. This is an exceptional review of what is apparently a most unexceptional and mixed film. But you, as always, are reasonable and gracious.

  5. I’m a sucker for this kind of thing Sam, so it was almost guaranteed I’d like it a little.

    Nick, as a non-fan of the genre or Statham, you can safely stay away…though I have to say I think Statham was different than what you normally expect from him.

  6. Well, I saw it today and I think I liked it a little bit better than Craig. Not sure why, not sure how, but for whatever reason I thought it was an altogether solid, and, yes, unspectacular film that, as you correctly and eloquently point out, Craig, really gets rolling once the heist has actually occurred. (The first act is terribly conventional–the whole film is to a degree but I was stunned at cookie-cutter the first 40 minutes or so are–it felt like every English crime yarn I’ve seen rolled into one movie and not in a good way.)

    That said, I actually liked how the film, despite its obvious “unoriginality,” managed to keep its many subplots and characters more or less intact, even if as a result none of them were explored with much depth.

    The actor playing Michael X wasn’t given much to do outside of the stereotypical “black power” mantra thing. That said, I wasn’t too impressed, haha.

  7. Like Pettigrew, I think my review of Bank Job sounds a little harsher than it probably deserves. It didn’t kill any bunnies, but it was pretty forgettable and didn’t take enough advantage of its assets.

    It was definitely better than bowel cancer, however.

  8. Undeniably true, Craig. Your review’s point about the film completely fumbling the ball, so to speak, in the atmosphere and milieu of early ’70s London is “spot-on,” and for the film pretty damned unforgivable. “…[L]ittle more than set dressing…” nails it, unfortunately. In this regard, the film is a total letdown. It takes almost zero advantage of its time and setting, which is a tragedy.

    I’ll probably forget all about it within five days. But, I was numbly entertained. Probably the only thing I actually disagree with you on, Craig, is I thought Statham and Burrows made for an okay onscreen duo. In terms of chemistry, nope, we’re not talking Bogart-Bergman or Tracy-Hepburn or Pacino-Keaton, but they acquitted themselves decently, I thought. Sometimes, though, the “theme” of a certain scene would be overbaked and pushed too hard (I’m thinking particularly of that scene where he lets her have it for essentially betraying he and his fellow blokes about the one safety deposit box) but I blamed the director for much of that. Donaldson did the same thing with Kevin Costner and Sean Young twenty-one years ago in No Way Out; the leopard has yet to change its spots, I guess.

    Jeff Wells declaring it one of the best heist movies ever, in the same league as Rififi, I believe he wrote, is downright laughable.

  9. He did? Wow. Rififi? Give me a freakin’ break.

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