*The Bank Job (R)
Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown
I wouldn't want to live in the world of The Bank Job in which everyone is corrupt except for the bad guys. But, of course, I guess we do, because this film is based on a true story.
And, though the heist is clever, what's most interesting about the movie is not the criminals' derring-do but the audacity of everyone else, none of whom would call themselves criminal.
It's like this: In September 1971, the British newspapers are full of news about the brazen robbery of a safe-deposit vault at a Baker Street bank. There are some astonishing details you may already know if you're up on your London legends but I won't reveal them because they add refreshingly original suspense. Suffice it to say the cops manage to find out about the robbery while it's in progress, and they still can't do a damn thing to stop it.
Officials attempt to count the losses, but the figure is literally incalculable. These are safe-deposit boxes. This is where people put valuables that they don't want anyone to know they're hiding. So it's no surprise that hardly anyone comes forward to make a claim.
And then and here is where the really juicy, conspiracy-theory stuff comes in after a few days, the story disappears from the newspapers. It's just gone, like it never existed.
Rumors of a government cover-up abound. Rumors run wild about what could have been stolen that would prompt a cover-up.
That's where The Bank Job exists, in the delicious space between the unknowns, filling in the blanks. Maybe it's not the 100 percent truth, but it's a damn good guess, and a ridiculously entertaining one.
Jason Statham whom I've never much liked before, but who is perfect here leads a band of, well, patsies. These are guys who have been set up to take something that the British covert agencies really, really need to keep secret.
Statham, as small-time crook Terry, cooks up a careful plan, but he's suspicious of the old girlfriend (Saffron Burrows) who brought the lead to him, and he's right to be. Terry ain't the brightest bulb, but he knows she's up to something.
We do, too, which is part of the brilliance of the script by the team of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (Across the Universe, Flushed Away).
We know more than Terry does, and even if we don't know it all, even if we can't guess how it's all going to shake out, we know it's not gonna be good. But you should know it is gonna be a whole helluva lot of fun.
Did I say I didn't want to live in this world? Actually, director Roger Donaldson makes the idea of not being able to trust anyone but a crook seem like an OK place to be.
And The Bank Job ends up being a fresh and cheery spin on the heist movie.
It really is easy to root for Terry and his gang, the way we always long to root for the bad guys, because acknowledged villains are the only ones worth rooting for.
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