Dir: Roger Donaldson
Script: Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, George McIndoe, Aaron Shuster
Cast: Jason Statham, Saffron Burrows, Stephen Campbell Moore, Daniel Mays, James Faulkner, Alki David, Michael Jibson, Richard Lintern, Don Gallagher, David Suchet
When a Baker Street depository was robbed in 1971, London became engrossed in the story of the ‘walkie-talkie bank job’ and a stolen 4 million. But this interested endured for all of five minutes; inexplicably the story was dropped due to a D-Notice government gagging order. No money was recovered. No arrests were made.
As with any genre movie emblazoned with the “based on a true story” tagline, there’s always the fear that any level of truth, or indeed reason why we should wish to learn of said story, will be crowbarred into one corner by the film’s need to entertain. Were The Bank Job ever more than mildly entertaining, the suspension of disbelief required to care about a group of bottom feeder rogues and the events surrounding their government sanctioned heist might have at least fulfilled the latter. Unfortunately, the film soon squanders its interesting premise with more characters than characterisation, and an overall lack of perspective.
With a leisurely pace more akin to a television production, The Bank Job suffers from its overall lack of tension. Our “heroes” treat the titular job itself as a laugh with the lads, and the film stumbles as it makes the awkward post-heist shift from buddy flick to gangster movie. The quartet of screenwriters, including the venerable TV duo Clement and La Frenais, evidently realised they’d dug themselves into a corner, employing the sort of instant-mix happy ending that will infuriate all but the most credulous cinemagoer. As the threat level escalates, it would seem that Stratham and Co’s survival is improbable, nay implausible, and the film struggles to offer any revelations that could make their survival credible.
Jason Stratham’s acting limitations have never been reputed, but in this kind of light-hearted fluff he makes a likeable enough and unusually subdued lead. In fact, much of the cast do fine, limited only by a vanilla script that does little to make us emphasise with anyone in particular. David ‘Poirot’ Suchet’s porn baron villain is abysmally unthreatening, more Ronnie Barker than Kray.
As ever with the cockney gangster genre, the mixed morals on display leave a bad taste in the mouth; a bent copper is the worst variety of scum on the planet, while bank robbers are generally loyal gamily men with a penchant for camaraderie. However, director Roger Donaldson, whose last effort was the sublime fairy-tale biopic World’s Fastest Indian, does have the guts to show John Lennon and Yoko Ono in a rare derogatory light, socialising with the pimping, murdering British Malcolm X wannabe Michael X.
It’s a shame that The Bank Job fails as either popcorn flick or dramatisation of a long kept secret. A documentary about the Baker Street heist and the political palaver surrounding it would have been far more interesting.