New review: The Bank Job, plus notes on 10,000 B.C.

Forget the blandly generic title and the casting of B-action star Jason Statham, a stalwart tough guy with stocky presence and limited range. While hardly a crime-movie masterpiece, The Bank Job is more than your generically gimmicky heist movie. First off, it’s not Hollywood but a homegrown British production basedbfbankjob.jpg on (or, more accurately, imagined from the skeletal details of) a real life 1971 bank robbery. The “Walkie-Talkie Robbery,” where thieves made off with the contents of hundreds of safety deposit boxes (to this day, many of the box-holders have not revealed the contents stolen), was a headline-grabber for days, and then suddenly disappeared from the media completely thanks to a government D-Notice, a gag order slapped on the case. The script by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais is based more on rumor and supposition than fact, an entertaining hypothesis on the story behind the robbery and what could have possibly hushed the whole thing up. The director is Roger Donaldson, a smart and often tough-minded director who, at his best, has a knack for scuffing up the smooth surfaces of his scripts and roughing up the edges of his characters. This a perfect project for those talents.

The Bank Job spins a good yarn on an unsolved case turned urban legend. MI-5 (Britain’s Security Service) is behind this job, through a middle-man, or rather a middle-woman (Saffron Burrows), who ropes in a small-time gang led by an old flame (Jason Statham) to pull off a major heist from an East London bank. They have the weekend to tunnel under the bank and into the safe deposit vault and all she has to do is simply sneak out the contents of a single specific box. The seventies setting clears out all the high-tech baggage of modern heist movies, which gives these second-rate crooks a fighting chance to pull of the heist of a lifetime. Which, in their cases, may not extend beyond the next couple of days. As the film shows us through the course of the job, much of the local underworld and a few corrupt cops and compromised politician and government ministers have a vested interest in recovering the stolen contents.

I review the film this week in the Seattle P-I:

Roger Donaldson… juggles a complicated story with oodles of peripheral characters without dropping a subplot. And he brings a refreshingly physical dimension to the logistics and practical mechanics of criminal activity in an era before cell phones and computer hacks.

The efforts to sweeten the ending feel forced in the aftermath of the violence and Statham feels far more in his element as a criminal leader than a doting family man, but those are mere quibbles in the compelling chaos unleashed by Statham and company and pulled together by muscular storytelling.

Read the complete review here.

10000-bc.jpg10,000 B.C. was not screened for critics in Seattle until the evening before opening, to keep the print press from getting an opening-day review in the papers. I saw the screening with the intention of reviewing it here, but for the life of me I can’t generate enough enthusiasm to justify the effort.

You can check off the movies that director/co-writer Roland Emmerich lifts for his big-budget Teenage Caveman: Quest for Fire, Apocalypto, Spartacus, the animated Ice Age (seriously!), the desert crossing scene from Lawrence of Arabia, images lifted from Michael Mann’s Last of the Mohicans (thanks to Robert Horton for that one), even an Androcles and the Lion retread with a saber tooth tiger. But when you come down to it, 10,000 B.C. most resembles Emmerich’s own Stargate, without the science fiction or the modern-day Marines. The prehistoric peoples, inspired by convenient prophecies and helped by supernatural seers, lead their own revolt against a decadent god-king who has been capturing slaves from primitive tribes to build the pyramids of his nascent city-state.

Shot in New Zealand, Namibia and South Africa and set in a vague geography that seems to encompass Northern Europe, the Middle East/Fertile Crescent, and North Africa, it has magnificent landscapes for its one-dimensional heroes and villains and the best rampaging mastodon herds that money and computer effects can buy, but the rest is not just a dumb compendium of recycled adventure epic clichés. When it comes to spectacle, we’ll put up with stupid as long as it’s exciting. This is downright dull.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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