Barclay's Bankers

Although the opening credits of Roger Donaldson’s late-to-the-party cockney crime caper herald The Bank Job as being ‘based on a true story’, it is a yarn spun almost completely from whole cloth. Yes, in 1971 an daring gang of London criminals burrowed into the vault of Lloyds Bank in London’s affluent Marylebone and made off with more than half a million pounds of loot. And yes, their walkie-talkie chatter was overheard by a nearby radio ham, leading to their capture. But they were there for the money, having spotted a flaw in the bank’s security system, not to return compromising photographs of a royal princess to MI5 or snare a violent black civil rights leader as the script from veteran sit-com double act Dick Clement and Ian Lafrenais would have you believe. Likewise, shadowy corners of the secret service did not intervene on the criminal’s behalf and allow them to escape scot free, the robbers were quickly caught and all served lengthy prison sentences.

Isn’t the truth tiresome? Well, fiction in this case is barely more exciting. Assembled from the dog-ends of countless previous iterations of the same standardised geezer text and executed without a modicum of invention or heart by Donaldson, The Bank Job gathers a cast of mid-range British talents to grind through the motions without ever giving a convincing reason for having done so. Small-time criminal Terry Leather (Jason Statham) is in debt to the shady Mr. Jessell (Trevor Byfield), whose strong-armed gorilla’s force Terry into considering a complicated criminal proposition from his old flame Martine (Saffron Burrows) that promises a big pay day. Terry gets his old gang back together, recruiting photographer Kevin (Stephen Campbell Moore), former porn star Dave (Daniel Mays) and fake posh gent Guy (James Faulkner), to help put the job in motion. At the same time, we discover the nasty establishment puppeteers, who are worse than the bad guys, including MI5 maven Miles Urquhart (Peter Bowles), who has his lackey Tim (Richard Lintern) do his dirty work for him.

The simplistic, ponderous treatment – set-up, execution, aftermath - doesn’t give Donaldson much room for invention and his blundering, uneven film struggles to find pace, particularly in the dreary opening sections. Worse still, after a decade or more of copycat British gangster movies, The Bank Job lacks any element of style, novelty or surprise. With the story sketched in broad strokes, the actors struggle with the lack of any real characterisation beyond their wide-lapelled costumes and elaborate hairdos. Statham is a stereotype specialist, but growling through his short range of granite-jawed stares isn’t enough to convince here. Opposite him, Burrows wafts prettily through an underwritten, procedural part without a real moment of distinction. Keely Hawes flares momentarily as Leather’s tired wife but without more to do, is forgotten in the subsequent melee of cliché and cardboard tension. The rest of the gang appear to have wandered in from an entirely different film, Carry On Blowing The Bloody Doors Off, maybe. Well before the end, the film falls away to nothing; a limp rethread that is as economical with inspiration as it is with the truth.

1 comment:

DAK said...

It must be my dearth of exposure to crime capers, but I thought the film was well crafted - specifically being able to keep multiple plots going at good clip without confusing this viewer.

Name another film with as many distinctly memorable characters. With two dirty cops, 1 honest sergeant, the ham radio operator, 6 gang members, 3 t 5 MI-5 or 6 guys, the wives of two gang members, the ham radio operator, the black power guy, the black author, the female British agent, and the chicken take-out the screenwriter and director deserve more credit than you give.

My viewing time was not wasted.