The Bank Job (15)

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The Independent Culture

The Bank Job looks from the poster like your bog-standard Brit-crim flick, and the casting of Jason Statham inclines you to anticipate at least one scene where somebody fires a bazooka at a helicopter while driving a sports car. The reality proves different. It's based on the true story of an unsolved bank robbery in September 1971, the details of which remain so murky that screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais are allowed to invent pretty much as they like. It's a freedom which, happily, they haven't abused.

Statham plays Terry, a London car mechanic who enlists his mates Kev (Stephen Campbell Moore) and Dave (Daniel Mays) in a chance-of-a-lifetime job on the vault of a Baker Street bank. What they don't know is that behind the proposition – offered via Terry's ex, Martine (Saffron Burrows) – lies a cat's-cradle of conspiracies involving bent coppers and Soho pornographers, titled worthies and brothel madams, government spooks and West Indian blackmailers, and, somewhere in one of the vault's deposit boxes, compromising photographs of a certain royal personage. The bank raid makes the news as the "walkie-talkie" robbery – the gang's talk was accidentally intercepted by a ham-radio enthusiast – and is then summarily dropped from the headlines following a government hush-up.

Roger Donaldson, a journeyman director who can run to smart (No Way Out, Thirteen Days) is on form here, marshalling a huge cast and keeping a steady hand on the tiller. He is well-served by his production designers, who've caught that Sixties-hangover look that characterised the early Seventies – sideburns, Biba coats, frowsy pubs – and even manage a wide shot of Baker Street traffic that looks bang on the period. Clement and La Frenais mostly resist the lure of anachronism, and some of their locutions ("in case it turns custard", "better get a wriggle on") sound good even if you can't vouch for their authenticity.

Pick of the performances is Statham, whose action-hero antics may have caused us to forget that he can also act. His Terry is a family man rather than a full-bore mockney geezer, and the low-key casting in other parts is also a good idea. Danny Dyer, for instance, would have sent the caricature levels through the roof. Given the early Seventies atmosphere, you half-expect to see the likes of George Sewell and Ian Hendry, great middle-rankers of the Brit lowlife genre; we settle instead for Peter Bowles and David Suchet, both nicely underplaying their respective villains. The Bank Job does its best to look convincing, and for that effort alone you'd forgive it a noticeable lack of suspense or surprise in the way it unfolds the robbery and its aftermath. As a spectacle of ingenious larceny, it's not up there with Rififi, or even Sexy Beast. But it's not bad, either.

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