It is fascinating how art sometimes anticipates reality. Mike Nichols' Primary Colors had a presidential candidate involved with an underage girl but opened before the public revelation of Bill Clinton's sordid dalliance with Monica Lewinski. A week after New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer had to resign in disgrace over his involvement in a sex scandal, we have The Bank Job, whose speedy, complicated plot is propelled by a series of sex scandals involving the British royalty, members of Parliament and top-ranking officials in Britain's spy ministry. Why does power so often produce self-destruction? Written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, directed by Roger Donaldson and supposedly 'based on a true story," The Bank Job is a tale about how a bunch of East End London schmoes become the pawns of MI6 and get caught in a deadly crossfire between cynical spooks, crooked cops, crazed radicals and vicious gangsters. Everybody is dirty, so you're nudged to root for the working-class blokes who just want to help their families live in the lap of luxury.
It's set in 1971, and the corrupt guys are in Whitehall rather than the White House. A year earlier, randy old Princess Margaret was photographed making naked naughty in a threesome in Trinidad. The man with the snapshots is a nasty nutcase passing himself off as a black power firebrand going by the self-dubbed moniker Michael X (Peter De Jersey). Mr. X is a slum lord and an extortionist, but he keeps dodging prison by letting some unnamed figure know he can embarrass the haughty House of Windsor. Enter MI6 operative Tim Everett (Richard Lintern). Somehow he knows a gorgeous former model, Martine Love (Saffron Burrows), has been busted for dope smuggling and is thus ripe for cold manipulation and maybe a couple of tumbles along the way. Following the strategy of The Sopranos, this picture never hesitates to invent occasions for nudity.
Tim will fix Martine's pending date with prison if Martine will rob the bank where Michael X keeps his naked photos of Margaret the Vixen. Why Tim thinks Martine is capable of such a heist is among the many things the picture doesn't pause to disclose. Martine can't do the job alone, so she contacts Terry Leather (Jason Statham), a guy from way-back-when who has remained pals with a bunch of other guys from back when. Terry does auto repair now, but he's in debt to gangsters who are threatening to break his thumbs. So sure, bank robbery seems like a grand idea, and pretty soon he's assembled a gang of accomplices who do not exactly rival the operators Paul Newman and Robert Redford put together in The Sting. Martine is after skin pics, and Terry and pals just want cash.
Normally in movies like this, the bank thieves spend months making their plans and accruing sophisticated burglary tools to crack vaults that are expressly designed to prevent cracking. These guys make their preparations in what seems like a matter of days, even though they are going to have to tunnel under half a block and then up into the bank through a slab of concrete that would support an aircraft carrier. To be fair, however, these are criticisms that only occur to the viewer in retrospect because the action is fast and furious and proceeds pell-mell on many fronts.
- Jack English
- Terry (Jason Statham) prepares for a bank heist in The Bank Job.