Friday, September 19, 2014

Review: The Bank Job

I think I've mentioned before how much I hate the phrase "based on a true story."  However, I cannot for the life of me find where I've discussed it before.  The phrase has all the significance and meaning of the phrase "I'm sorry if you took offense" or "your call is important to us."  Simply being "based" on a true story could be "we gathered every detail we could and stuck as true to the story as possible while filling in holes with what experts believe happened" or simply "eh, in both stories there's a guy with brown hair."

As much as I loved Robin Williams, I have to admit that the liberties taken with the movies he's starred in has always bugged me, but I think the phrase "based on a true story" lost all meaning for me when it started being applied to Hollywood horror films involving possessions and ghosts.  It turns out the MPAA doesn't regulate the use of the phrase "based on a true story," so anybody can use it wherever they want.

"Based on a true story."
So on that note, let's discuss The Bank Job.

When I initially heard that the Jason Statham movie The Bank Job was "based on a true story," I had my doubts.  After all, surely this would be a movie where Jason Statham kicks a lot of guys in the face and talks like a man whose voice was just paved over with gravel, right?

Pictured: Every scene from every Jason Statham movie.
Well, no, it's not.  Is there some violence?  Yes, but amazingly enough, Jason Statham doesn't really break out any fancy fighting moves.  Instead, the story really is the telling of an infamous bank heist in London,  I'm not going to go into all the details of what actually happened (mostly because I have no idea what actually happened), but what this story does is something that I find rare for a movie that's "based on a true story."

If you ignore the "based on a true story" bit, the story still holds up as believable.  You could see a government agency attempt to use petty criminals to steal something they can't legally retrieve (look at Watergate).  You can see a criminal getting way in over his head with what was supposed to be a simple job.  Some facts in the story actually are true, like the fact that the police were tipped off because an amateur ham radio operator overheard the walkie-talkie conversations between the gang.  The government did attempt to hush things up.  As near as I can tell, there really were millions of dollars worth of cash, gold, jewelry, and other items stolen, and lots of people with safe deposit boxes never filed insurance claims.

But what about the movie?  What makes it good?  Well, for one thing, there's some real, genuine tension in certain scenes that, in most other movies, would fall flat on their face.  A scene involving a dropped walkie-talkie is actually pretty tense because it leaves people on both sides of the law unaware of what's going on.  The last ditch attempt at get all the good guys and bad guys together at the climax feels about as mashed up and chaotic as you'd think a real world attempt to bring forces against each other would go.

The setting is wonderfully British (as in it's rather cold and looks like it's constantly wet), and even though there aren't that many locations, each one manages to be used to shed some light on the personalities of the people taking part in the film.  The home that Jason Statham and his wife raise their children in seems warm and "normal," but with a simple door being closed, it can start to feel somehow both extremely closed in and also very fragile, like the walls would crumble away in a moment should something go wrong.  The shop purchased by the robbers to drill from into the bank manages to look extremely well-built and stocked (like, say, a place professionals would hang out) but also has product scattered and disorganized (small-time criminals, we'll say, trying something big without really knowing what they're doing).

Jason Statham was really the only actor I recognized (which I think actually helped the movie, because I spent more time just seeing the characters as their characters, not as actors playing characters).  I suppose I did recognize Saffron Burrows from her role on Agents of SHIELD, but it took me a while.  Each character involved in the heist brings a a likability to their role, and each of the villains is despicable in their own way.  Manipulators, murderers, and porn kingpins, they manage to reach into the darkest corners of both the justice system and the criminal underworld and present a genuine threat to the "heroes."

I enjoyed the movie, regardless of how much of it was "real" and how much of it wasn't.  It's pretty cheap at movie stores these days.  I got mine on blu-ray from a local shop for about eight dollars.  It's worth the sit down.  While it doesn't really contribute anything new to the heist movie genre, it presents what it does have extremely well.

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