Review: The Bank Job

"The Bank Job" (IMDb listing) is based on the infamous 1971 Baker Street bank robbery, an event that shook up England, damaging the reputation of government and police officials, before it was locked down with a rare usage of the silencing "D-notice." It's a marvelous story, but something tells me all factual elements have been peeled away in favor of a vibrant, violent, lewd approach to the tale. It may be inconsiderate to the real participants, but it makes for rollicking heist cinema.

Down on his luck and trying to keep his business afloat, Terry (Jason Statham) is offered a chance to reverse his fortunes by Martine (Saffron Burrows), who is planning a bank heist to get herself out of a jam and needs a crew for the dirty work. Gathering his friends, Terry and the boys put their intricate plan into motion, digging underneath the bank to pop up in the safety deposit box vault and loot the mysterious contents. While the team goes about their criminal business, there are multiple eyes watching them, from porn kings to black radicals, and when the corrupt police force becomes involved, all hell breaks loose.

"Bank Job" is a glossy production intending to reduce complicated criminal interaction down to primal ingredients. The direction by Roger Donaldson is lively and effective, rolling around the known gray qualities of heroes and villains, inserting unusual velocity into his filmmaking. The material is Viagra to Donaldson, and his concentration on pace keeps "Bank Job" fresh and exciting, while also making sure to lay satisfying character groundwork along the way to boost the participation factor.

There's a buffet of storylines to take in with "Bank Job," including Terry's strained marriage, the comical ham radio reveal of the heist to law enforcement officials, pictures of Princess Margaret in compromising positions, and the puzzling whereabouts of a ledger containing extensive notes on police bribery. The plots are knocked around like a beach ball at a rock concert, only slowing down long enough to process basic questions of logic. The film is marinated in factual bits of primo London crime history, but "Bank Job" winds to such a fever pitch that it feels like a fictional joy ride, and perhaps it is. Donaldson never hammers down an overall vibe of reality, and that's a wise choice. The fun of picture seems to be the embellishments between the buoys of recorded history.

Jason Statham leads a terrific ensemble, including an unexpectedly edgy turn from Burrows, who drops her typical wounded-kitten routine to play Martine as a confident crime boss of sorts. Donaldson wields his actors well, spending time with everyone connected to the robbery and cherry-picking pieces of their personality. It helps when "Bank Job" blurs into a series of double-crosses and judo chops in the second half of the picture.

"Bank Job" never boils down to total confusion, but there are still a heap of characters to keep track of, not to mention several locations and motivations; the factual bullet points of the Baker Street incident manage to squeak through loud enough while Donaldson pulls the movie towards action standards, with Terry seeking fist-first revenge on those who threatened his crew. It's an uneasy, if undeniably thrilling, mix of brawn and historical record, presented briskly enough to make one turn a blind eye to the reality that 90% of the "Bank Job" is assuredly fiction.

Filmfodder Grade: B+