From the Archives: The Bank Job (2008)

21 Feb

In 1971, an audacious gang of crooks broke into the vault of the Baker Street branch of Lloyds Bank in London’s affluent Marylebone. It made off with approximately £500,000 (more than £5 million in modern terms), yet this robbery is an almost unknown footnote in the history of London’s notorious criminal past. The mystery and intrigue surrounding this robbery is exactly what director Roger Donaldson’s The Bank Job attempts to uncover, and the film’s premise is certainly salivating stuff: dodgy East End gangsters, depraved politicians, government cover-ups and Royal scandal.

Mechanic and small-time criminal Terry Leather (Jason Statham) leads a low-key existence, yet he finds himself in debt to the shady Mr. Jessell (Trevor Byfield). A visit from hired goons Pinky (Les Kenny-Green) and Perky (Jamie Kenna) forces Terry to consider an exciting proposition from old flame Martine (Saffron Burrows) that promises a future of financial security. Despite initial skepticism, Terry recruits a rag-tag bunch of friends and petty criminals to carry out the job. However, it soon transpires that ulterior motives are behind the plan. Bane of the British government, black activist Michael X (a scowling Peter De Jersey) has blackmailed his way to immunity from prosecution, claiming to be in possession of photographs that purport to show a Royal Princess in compromising situations. MI5, desperate to get its hands on the incriminating evidence, essentially recruits Martine and effectively green lights the robbery in order to save the princess in question and the entire royal family from embarrassment. Given such juicy material, it is surprising that the robbery itself is so strangely devoid of any real tension and actually verges on the ponderous. It isn’t until after the robbery is carried out and the gang finally uncover the true motive for carrying out the crime that The Bank Job comes to life.

Cash rich and in possession of not only the Royal photographs, but others of kinky MP’s as well as an incriminating ledger containing details of corruption in the police, the gang finds itself severely out of its depth. With MI5, Michael X and porn baron Lew Vogel (a swarthy David Suchet) after their heads, the gang play these elements off against one another in a delectable game of cat and mouse. Revenge and brutal murder are meted out, yet the fallout from the robbery represents a fundamental tonal shift and, as a result, the film feels a little disjointed, veering from a light-hearted crime caper into violent gangster thriller territory. However, with the tension ramped up exponentially, The Bank Job’s second act is captivating and intelligent fare.

The japes are abetted by a competent cast led by Statham, who – whilst no stranger to playing the East End hard man – manages to at least instill an element of soul into the vulnerable and manipulated Terry. It is however a little frustrating that a decade since his breakthrough role in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Statham still seems reluctant to stretch himself in more unorthodox roles. However, Suchet’s turn as sleazy Lew is an unmitigated delight, and it is a pleasure to see Peter Bowles gracing the big screen once again. Keeley Hawes and Burrows are suitably catty, but their characters lack a little depth and the consistently excellent Hawes in particular feels a bit wasted in such a bit part of a role. Moments of weak dialogue are surprising, disappointing even given the caliber of its veteran writing team (Dick Clement and Ian Lafrenais) and the slow pace of the first act doesn’t exactly help matters.

Despite its various and very evident flaws, The Bank Job is an enjoyable enough romp, it is just a shame that there is a niggling and overriding sense that it never quite lives up to the promise of its fascinating premise.

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