The Bank Job **** (out of ****)

Director: Roger Donaldson
Writers: Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais
Cast: Jason Statham, Saffron Burrows, Stephen Campbell Moore, Daniel Mays, James Faulkner, Richard Lintern, Hattie Morahan, Peter De Jersey
Rating: R (sexual content, nudity, violence and language)
Running Time: 110 min
Release Date: 3/7/08

The Bank Job is perhaps the best film of the New Year so far. Set in 1971 London, it is the story of a mysterious bank robbery and the government cover-up that followed. It is billed as based on historical events and from my limited investigation parts of it clearly are. Other parts are clearly fiction and are most likely added to make a more entertaining movie.

We start with an incident on a Caribbean inland in which a woman is photographed in bed with two men. Then we jump forward to the next year where a slum lord and drug pusher going by the name Michael X (Peter De Jersey) is facing trial in London. He assures his a barrister things will go well and the charges are dropped. You see he has the photos and the woman was Princess Margaret. Michael X has styled himself as Britain’s leading black activist and blackmailed Her Majesty’s Government with the threat to release the photos if he is convicted.

Meanwhile Tim (Richard Lintern), an upcoming young agent is meeting with the head of MI5. His assignment is to organize a robbery of a certain bank with ordinary criminals and obtain the contents of safe deposit box 118. If this deal goes bad only Tim will have any connection and the government will disavow any knowledge of his actions.

Tim is able to catch an attractive woman, Martine (Saffron Burrows), smuggling drugs. Given her underworld connections, she is given the job of organizing the robbery and retrieving the photos in return for charges being dropped. Tim directs that she will be the only contact with the conspiracy and the gang will be able to keep the loot if they can pull it off. She knows Terry (Jason Statham), a small time underworld figure, to whom she offers the deal. Terry sees this as his ticket to getting out crime and living the good life. He quickly goes about organizing a crew to carry out the plot.

What Tim and the robbers don’t realize is that there is a lot more sensitive information in those safe deposit boxes that will impact criminals, government officials, and crooked cops. Once news of the robbery is out all parties are after the participants. Martine’s interest in box results in Terry’s suspension of her. So Martine can’t deliver the photos Tim becomes suspicious of her as well. Due to a ham radio operator overhearing walkie-talkie communications between the robbers, the police and the media were alerted to the proceedings. Murphy’s Law rules supreme!

The Bank Job is an exciting and fast moving if somewhat complex film. The relationship to the historical facts will remain murky due to MI5 issuing a D Notice to limit press coverage and classify the truth. What is clear is that some more was involved that a simple heist. Roger Donaldson has certainly directed a well crafted fictionalization of a fascinating episode in British history.

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