"The Bank Job" is a solidly built and entertaining Brit B-movie about a heist that goes wrong. And right.
It's an elaborate caper, with odd but oddly believable crooks, compelling villains and loads of swell British slang, circa 1971.
And the kicker? It reallyhappened.
There are incriminating photographs of a sexual nature that a Jamaican drug-dealer and pimp and sometime "revolutionary" has stashed in a safe deposit box. British intelligence (MI-5) knows about them. And they want those photos destroyed.
So they blackmail a drug smuggler, Martine (Saffron Burrows), into setting up a heist. MI-5 helps arrange it. The bank's alarm system won't be on. All the smuggler has to do is tempt others into doing the work, lads from the old neighborhood, the old life, maybe even an old flame (Jason Statham).
Terry (Statham) only wants to "get out of the game." He's behind on his underworld debts. He's about to lose his garage. So he lures in some "villains" he's friendly with to help. There's Dave the porn actor (Daniel Mays), Kevin the photographer (Stephen Campbell Moore), a Cypriot tunnel-and-tools expert and a con man/haberdasher with a "posh accent" to rent the store they'll need to dig from.
They're amateurs in every sense. They make too much noise. They're clumsy with the tools, including a "thermic lance," which burns through concrete. They chatter on walkie-talkies that "we're almost in the vault" and the like.
They don't hide their faces and they don't wear gloves.
At least Terry's the suspicious type. He wonders what Martine's angle is if "Old Bill" (cops) shows up and "things turn to custard."
Roger Donaldson, a sometime action director ("The Recruit" and "The World's Fastest Indian" were his) takes a while to find his footing here. But as the heist unfolds and we're fully introduced to all the competing characters and opposing agendas, "The Bank Job" crosses from uncertain to engrossing.
A strip club owner (David Suchet) has secrets in the bank. A madam has "client" photos and film hidden there. Corrupt cops are furious that they weren't in on it. The Jamaican Michael X (Peter De Jersey) worries that he's lost his blackmail photos. Members of Parliament, government officials and nobility fret over what may come out.
And the happy-go-goofy crooks realize they've opened "a whole bloody Pandora's Box."
Heist-picture cliches such as the divide-the-loot session, the kidnap and torture of gang members and "the handoff" are managed with aplomb.
The film doesn't cover much ground that 100 years of heist movies haven't been over before. But as the mistakes and blunders turn deadly, and the outcome grows more and more doubtful, Donaldson, Statham and company make us care who lives, who dies and who will end up doing time for "The Bank Job."