Roger Donaldson | 107 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | UK, USA & Australia / English | 15 / R
Inspired by real events (more on that later), The Bank Job sees the British Secret Service covertly enlist a gang of crooks to rob a bank’s vault in order to retrieve some compromising photos of a member of the royal family — not that the robbers know this is what they’re up to. Unfortunately for them, the vault also contains property belonging to an organised crime boss, who isn’t too happy it’s been pilfered.
Inspired by a real 1971 robbery, plus a host of other issues that were in the news around that time, The Bank Job is a rich stew of fact, supposition, and wild imagination. Apparently the filmmakers claimed it was very much based on a true story, including new information from an inside source, though eventually admitted some of it (including a major character) was wholly fiction. One fact boldly stated on screen — that black activist Michael X’s files are sealed until 2054 — sounds entirely plausible, but is completely false.
Accurate or not, it’s a heckuva tale. Unfortunately, its telling leaves something to be desired. Screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais are names most familiar from their TV sitcoms (The Likely Lads, Porridge, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet), but also have an array of surprising credits to their name (a ’90s crime comedy starring Alicia Silverstone and Benicio Del Toro; Julie Taymor’s Beatles jukebox musical; Aardman’s foray into CG animation) — but, most pertinently, solid TV thrillers like Archangel and Spies of Warsaw. Sadly, their work on The Bank Job lives up to none of these. The dialogue is clunky, every declaration on the nose, and the characters have a habit of discussing their secrets loudly in public places — the apparent lack of volume control in every performance is astonishing.
Mostly, it feels like it wants to be a Guy Ritchie movie — obviously there’s the throwback London gangster milieu, but also that it features disparate-but-connected plot threads, and the way it cuts between them, sometimes jumping back & forth in time… it’s all very Lock Stock or Snatch. Obviously the blame for much of this lies at the feet of director Roger Donaldson, who’s had the film shot in a kind of polished version of Ritchie’s style, too — it’s all very clean-looking, without the picturesque grittiness that’s part of Guy’s initial efforts.
Yet for all that derivativeness and almost homogenisation, the story’s a good’un; and if the quality cast can’t exactly elevate the material, they can at least keep it ticking over. Is the narrative good enough to overcome the filmmaking shortcomings? Your mileage may vary. I liked it almost in spite of itself — I suspect there was an even better film to be had out of this exact setup.