"The Bank Job" is a true heist film in the finest tradition. Based on a 1971 incident in London, the movie follows an elaborate bank robbery that was highly publicized only to be quickly stifled in the press for reasons that were never truly explained. Director Roger Donaldson, working from a script by the team of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, presents a fictionalized account of the event, offering some intriguing speculation about the reasoning behind the robbery and its eventual disappearance from the news.
The genesis for the robbery, in the film at least, comes from Martine Love (Saffron Burrows), a former model who grew up with a number of shady characters in East London. She approaches former flame Terry Leather (Jason Statham), a car dealer and petty criminal, with the idea of robbing a local bank where she knows the security will be down for a week and they can potentially gain access to a vault containing the safe-deposit boxes. Naturally because the items contained within these boxes are of a highly personal nature, few people will be willing to report what is missing, leaving the thieves at less risk of being caught. Desperate to pay off a rather aggressive associate, Terry agrees to the scheme and invites two of his crime pals, Kevin and Dave (Stephen Campbell Moore and Daniel Mays), and a few other acquaintances to join in. The plan is to set up shop in a vacant store in the same strip as the bank, dig a hole underground, and burrow their way directly into the vault. The set-up seems foolproof, and the participants eagerly jump in.
Unbeknownst to Terry, Martine is actually working closely with a Military Intelligence agent she has been friendly with (she has been friendly with lots of men). In exchange for clearing her of smuggling drugs, he has asked her to obtain the contents of a particular safe-deposit box belonging to one Michael X (Peter De Jersey), a corrupt black-power leader who is using compromising photographs of a certain royal to keep the British government at bay. Although the bank job itself goes off with only a few hitches, nobody is prepared for the series of events that will take place in its aftermath. As one character observes, the whole ordeal turns out to be something of a Pandora 's Box, exposing not only Michael X's secrets but those of a local madam, a pornographer, and a corrupt police force.
If I didn't know this film was based on a true story I would never have believed it, but as they say, truth is often stranger than fiction. The film gets off to a somewhat confusing start as it introduces all of the individual plot threads and their corresponding characters that will later be intertwined. For the first 30 minutes or so, it is not always easy to figure out how every character fits into the overall structure or what their relationship is to other characters, but the film moves at a swift pace and concentrates primarily on the bank heist. Once the heist actually gets underway, the movie really gets going, deftly mixing smart humor with suspense to create a totally absorbing story. In addition to capturing fine period flavor, Roger Donaldson harkens back to crime capers of the early 1970s in this first half of the film, utilizing plenty of old-fashioned dry wit.
Once Terry and the gang finish the job and their triumph essentially hits the fan, the movie takes a sharp and surprisingly (though inevitably) dark turn. The sudden shift in tone could easily have brought the film to a screeching halt, but Donaldson keeps it moving smoothly because of his meticulous attention to detail. If the various characters and situations were confusing earlier, they easily fall into place as they are all significantly affected by the robbery. Every character is given just enough depth and development to make them real and relatable without detracting from the main plot or slowing down the film.
Much of this credit certainly belongs to the ensemble cast. The actors uniformly bring unique personalities to their characters and invite either our sympathy or abhorrence. No one particularly stands out because they are all performing at the same level. Possibly the most surprising performance comes from Jason Statham, who is given perhaps his first truly serious starring vehicle. Viewers accustomed to Statham's usual over-the-top, shoot-'em-up cartoons may be shocked by the actor's restraint in this film and the deliberate delay of violence. His chemistry with Burrows and the rest of his team is fantastic, and they suggest a long history together in their conversational scenes. In fact, the glue that holds the film together is the connectedness between the characters and their plights. Even when the story reaches—or even oversteps—the edge of credibility, the characters draw it back with their all-too-human characteristics.
Lions Gate has released "The Bank Job" in both single-disc and double-disc editions. The single-disc edition apparently contains no special features other than a theatrical trailer. It is the 2-disc set that has been reviewed here.
The film's transfer looks perfectly fine on DVD in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Image quality is clear with no noticeable artifacts. The film has an intentionally muted and somewhat soft appearance, which is duplicated well on the disc. Skin tones are natural, and black tones are solid.
Audio is equally fine in a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, nicely balancing dialogue with music and sound effects. While most of the violent action takes place at the film's climax, the rest of the film benefits from some well-distributed ambience and forceful but not overpowering music. An English 2.0 track is also included, along with optional English and Spanish subtitles.
On the first disc, the film is accompanied by an audio commentary with director Roger Donaldson, actress Saffron Burrows, and composer J. Peter Robinson. While the three establish a good rapport, their discussion is not terribly interesting. They point out a few nice tidbits along the way, but the bulk of their commentary is made up of either self-congratulations or rather banal observations. Robinson's inclusion is truly peculiar as there is very little discussion of his score.
More interesting is a 17-minute making-of featurette, "Inside The Bank Job." Featuring interviews with cast and crew, there is some overlap with the commentary, but it provides a more entertaining look at the production. A second featurette, "The Baker Street Bank Raid," is of even greater interest. Lasting 15 minutes, the feature examines the real-life robbery with crime-scene photos and vintage news footage, along with interviews with historians, reporters, and a radio expert who was actually involved in the investigation.
About six minutes of deleted footage is offered. This includes some very short and rather inconsequential bits as well as more substantial deletions. These scenes are accompanied by optional commentary by Donaldson, Burrows, and Robinson. A theatrical trailer rounds out the disc.
The second disc of this set is dedicated entirely to a downloadable digital copy of the film.
Although a bit confusing in its opening set-up, "The Bank Job" pays off well once the action gets going. With a fast pace and multiple plot threads, the film remains consistently interesting and entertaining, by turns funny and suspenseful, and just a tad trashy in its speculations. A great cast of character actors contributes a lot of energy, imbuing their characters with spark and personality. This is ultimately great entertainment in the tradition of classic heist films.