English writer Theodore Dalrymple recently observed that the prostitution scandal that forced Eliot Spitzer to resign as New York’s governor seems downright juvenile compared to the sex scandals in Britain, where a higher level of depravity is expected of politicians. After watching The Bank Job, a relentlessly paced heist film based on actual events, you’ll know what he’s talking about.
Set in 1971 London, the film follows the efforts of a small crew of thieves led by Terry (Jason Statham) and Martine (Saffron Burrows) as they try to tunnel underneath a bank and haul off an estimated four million pounds in cash and jewels. But Terry, a body shop owner in debt to loan sharks, doesn’t know Martine’s been put up to the job by her lover, a government agent who wants her to recover some incriminating photos of a royal family member that are being kept in one of the bank’s safe deposit boxes. But Terry’s smart enough not to trust Martine completely, and he must use all his wits to try to outfox the vicious thugs and corrupt cops who begin pursuing the crew after the robbery, desperate to get back the trove of blackmail material that Terry and his mates have inadvertently stolen. What’s amazing is not just that Terry’s unlikely assortment of losers and con men-whose previous experience includes just the “odd bit of skulduggery”-pull off the job. In the film’s amoral universe-where the police are just as crooked as the local mobsters, and government ministers invoke “national security” in order to hush up the ensuing scandal-the people you find yourself rooting for are Terry, Martine, and their gang.
A large cast and complex plot are introduced without losing the viewer, and admirable restraint is shown; the inevitable violence is not overly graphic, and the many scenes of (mostly female) nudity don’t seem gratuitous. The dialogue is crisp and amusing-petty criminals speak with authority about Mozart or the 1665 plague epidemic, but even the police get MI5 and MI6 confused. James Bond would be appalled, but it’s jolly good fun for the viewer.