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March 7, 2008 |

By Phillip Stephens | Film | March 7, 2008 |

The phrase “based on a true story” is already a meaningless one, even if you aren’t a post-structuralist, but the “real” story behind the infamous Baker Street bank robbery of 1971 is an imaginist’s wet dream. The crime was never solved, owing partially to a government-imposed gag order, or D-Notice, which forbade press coverage and fueled the fires of speculation. Writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, working from real transcript evidence, think they have the juice on what was behind the crime. And lord is it juicy! But whatever the case (and whether or not you care), The Bank Job is a ridiculously entertaining thriller; like a well-thrown stone, it skips pleasantly over the better part of two hours without sinking under the unnecessary weights of character or melodrama.

What Clement and La Frenais posit was behind the robbery: an old-school royal sex scandal and cover-up. Michael X (Peter De Jersey) a Black Power roustabout by day and pimp/extortionist/dealer by night, has somehow nabbed several saucy photos of Princess Margaret doing the woo-woo with other ladies. X uses the photos as leverage when he’s busted for multiple crimes, and MI5 is desperate to get hold of them without, of course, dirtying their own hands. One of their operatives bribes the lovely Martine (Saffron Burrows, an appropriate sort of post-Twiggy), who’s up on her own drug charges, into aiding their cause. Martine hits up a local down-on-his luck hood named Terry (Jason Statham) and convinces him to put together a crew for a purportedly easy score. Terry and his mates are coaxed, unknowingly, into robbing a bank vault which contains X’s incriminating photos, which Martine will then deliver for MI5.

But unbeknownst to everyone, the bank in question is a dumping ground for criminal kingpins; the hapless thieves not only purloin the money they’re after, but other compromising photos of a prominent MP (in bondage gear, no less) and a ledger containing a porn kingpin’s payroll of corrupt cops! What ensues is a wonderful imbroglio of cop vs. crook, crook vs. crook, and MI5 vs. everyone; a fiasco of special interest forces overwhelming the poor boobs caught in the middle.

Better yet, the film is housed in the classic limey-mod capers of the 60s and 70s, a la Get Carter. Rarely since the poisoned oeuvre of Guy Ritchie has a film been this self-consciously British. The Bank Job is all blokes and blimeys and bollocks — the best kind of crime thriller. Even Statham, who has long since stopped playing a role other than Jason Statham, is absorbed into the whole cockney schema without missing a beat. Director Roger Donaldson doesn’t create a plot so much as contain it — he lets all these wrangling forces sprawl out at once, then watches as they chase one another, moving from one immediacy to the next. The result is certainly shallow, but blissfully engaging.

Phillip Stephens is the lead critic and book editor for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, AR, and wastes his twenties in grad school(s).

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The Bank Job / Phillip Stephens

Film | March 7, 2008 |

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