For years, heist and caper films have been trying to out do each other, continually raising the bar on what seemingly impossible methods a gang of crooks would go through to obtain their objectives and the obstacles that get thrown in their path. Along the way though, they began to strain one’s suspension of disbelief. Based on a true story of a 1971 London heist, The Bank Job reminds us that sometimes there is no substitute for as good a story as one that could be found in real life.
Terry (Jason Statham) is a small-time hood trying to go straight, but has not been successful in extricating himself from London’s seamier elements. His answer, though, may come in the form of a proposition from an old friend, the lovely Martine (Saffron Burrows). She knows of a bank whose alarms have been deactivated due to vibrations from a nearby subway line constantly activating them. She proposes that it would be simple to rent a store on the same block, tunnel under the bank and then up to the bank’s vault to steal the contents of the safety deposit boxes. She argues that they could get away with it as no one really wants to let people know what they keep in their deposit boxes.
But what Terry and the crew he assembles for the heist don’t realize is that they are merely pawns, being used by the government to retrieve compromising blackmail photos of one of the Royal Family from one of the safety deposit boxes. However, in their haul, they also manage to snare a bookie’s ledger chronicling his protection payouts to the local police and some film and photographs of various high-ranking political figures taken by the madam of a rather high class house of ill repute. The group soon find themselves scrambling to escape from several angry factions, all willing to kill to get their respective property back.
The screenplay, by Across The Universe scripters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, manages to carefully juggle more than a dozen characters important to the narrative, never losing track of any of them. Director Roger Donaldson has a good track record of delivering solid films such as No Way Out (1987) and Thirteen Days (2000), and continues to do so with this film. Not one for flashy camera moves or editing tricks, Donaldson manages to infuse the film with a gritty aesthetic that vaguely recalls the heist and police procedural films of the 1970s.
The fact that Jason Statham can be a pretty decent actor is often obscured by his choice in roles. Fortunately, he has plenty to work with here. Terry isn’t quite the tough guy that Statham normally plays. He’s a guy conflicted by trying to go straight for the sake of his wife and two young daughters, but only sees that the best way to do that is to commit one last crime. Statham’s characters are normally the type to solve problems through violence, but here he barely throws a bunch until towards the end of the film. It is a refreshing change to see him play this more thoughtful type of tough guy and hopefully it won’t be too long before we see him in a role like this again.