The plot of the heist movie “The Bank Job” is complicated enough that audiences may occasionally have trouble keeping up, but they are unlikely to get bored and won’t cease to be entertained throughout its entire hour and 50 minutes.
The movie is certainly the best of its kind to be made in recent years, and to top it off, it’s based on the true story of a group of thieves that robbed a large number of safe deposit boxes from a bank on Baker Street in London in 1971. If you didn’t know better you wouldn’t believe it. Of course, most the action we see of the characters actually planning and executing the robbery is made up, and it’s hard to tell exactly which parts of the surrounding story might or might not be true. Why? Because much of the information surrounding the robbery has been classified since it happened. News coverage of it stopped abruptly four days later, supposedly because MI5, the English equivalent of the Secret Service, ordered new organizations to look the other way.
So what happened? It may not be provable, but the filmmakers supposedly used an inside source as a consultant on the script. They might have. They might not have. Either way, the result is one of the most entertaining, not to mention interesting, movies I’ve seen in a while.
The movie opens in the Caribbean the year before the robbery. As an woman, unseen to the audience, leaves the beach and goes to her room with a couple of people, we see a man taking photos of them through the window. It turns out that this woman in Princess Margaret and that these photos will eventually fall into the hands of the Trinidadian-born black power militant Michael X, who threatens to blackmail the royal family to get out of a few criminal charges. He stores the photos in – you guessed it – the titular bank on Baker Street. This causes the MI5 to enlist the help of some petty thieves to steal the photos. Since the crime can’t be traced back to the government, so they make sure that thieves have no knowledge of why they are breaking into the bank. Luckily for them, one of the agents is dating a model that has drug charges hanging over her head and has reason to cooperate.
Here’s where the main action kicks in. The model, Martine (Saffron Burrows) goes to her old friend, Terry (Jason Statham). Terry is a good guy at heart, but has fallen on hard times with the garage he runs. He owes money all over the place and thugs keep showing up at the garage, making threats and smashing windshields. Although he dismisses the robbery idea at first, the thought of starting over again with his beloved wife and children without financial troubles is too tempting. So he enlists the helps of a colorful cast of characters to help pull off the robbery. None except for Martine has any clue about the true purpose for the heist, and even she is fuzzy on the details.
As soon as the movie starts, it kicks into high gear, introducing each character at a breakneck pace. We don’t know exactly why each one is important at first, but they are all introduced in interesting ways that draw us into their lives and has us personally invested in what happens to them once the plot moves forward. As is always important in heist movies, which usually has a group of strangers working toward a common goal, the motley crew is an entertaining and likeable bunch. The filmmakers have acknowledged that Martine is fictional, but it’s fun to think that this bank robbery spawned by a sex scandal was carried out in part because Terry was attracted to her against his better judgment. As played by Saffron, she makes a compelling and likable catalyst, and one whom we can believe would be able to wrap men around her finger to do her bidding. But she’s no femme fatale. She’s just as vulnerable as any of the other desperate characters. She’s simply good at hiding it from everyone except for the audience.
As for Statham, this is definitely his best movie since another British gangster movie, 2001’s “Snatch.” It’s encouraging because he’s a good actor who seems to star in a lot of forgettable fare. But he’s like Bruce Willis in the way he is able to balance coolness and toughness with an intelligent (though not quite sensitive) side.
The movie moves at such a brisk pace that we sometimes find ourselves trying to think back, sure that we’ve missed something, but there’s no time because it’s so unrelenting. But, more importantly, it’s fun. I do have to admit, though, that it takes a darker turn than we expect about three-quarters of the way through. However, that shouldn’t impair your enjoyment for the film as a whole. It’s the kind of movie that’s so entertaining and also so packed with plot and a large number of characters that I found myself wanting to watch it again immediately after it was over.
We’ll probably never know exactly what really happened on Baker Street. At the end, when title cards wrap up all the characters’ stories, it declares that “the names have been changed to protect the guilty,” but doesn’t let us know what else has been changed too. Still, the movie would work even if it were pure fiction. But knowing that it could have happened that way makes it even more fascinating.
“The Bank Job” is rated R: No one admitted without accompanying parent or guardian.