In 1971 there was a bank robbery in London. To this day the crime has never been solved. The reason that it has not been solved is tied to MI-5, the British government, and the royal family. That's right, it goes all the way to the top.
For a scant few days after the heist, the robbery was front page news, but as quickly as it appeared it disappeared. The cause for the disappearance was a D-notice (or gag order) issued by MI-5. And so it went; the daring heist went largely uninvestigated with many of those involved kept silent, never to speak of the case again. Now, along come writers Dick Clement and Ian La Franais with their script that looks to fill in the gaps of what is known. Is it fact or fiction? Well, it is probably a little bit of both, although what is presented seems to be a logical representation of a likely series of events.
The film opens with a naked frolic along the beaches of Jamaica, followed by a three-person frolic in a bedroom by the sea. It just so happens that there is someone outside the window, taking pictures of the compromising interactions. It is soon revealed that Princess Margaret was a subject of said photographs, the release of which would set off a firestorm of controversy, which the government did not want to have anything to do with. So, in an effort to reclaim the scandalous photographs, Martine Love (Saffron Burrows) is recruited, following a drug bust, for her criminal contacts.
At the top of Martine's list is her flame that never was, Terry Leather (Jason Statham). Terry is a dodgy fellow who runs a used car dealership, and is a loving husband and doting father. However, he is also in debt to a local loan shark, so the promise of an easy heist is too easy to pass up. Terry gets together some of his old associates and they plan the robbery, without even knowing what they are getting into. Martine is keeping the real goal of the robbery a secret.
And so it goes — the robbery is planned, executed, and then the fallout follows. That is what makes The Bank Job work so well. It takes its story and follows it through, while never getting too hung up on the plotting and allowing the characters to develop as the story is told. The Bank Job never gets bogged down in the mechanics of the heist, which is a big plus. The characters are allowed to breathe and grow and not just play the role of props to the bigger picture of the heist.
As a whole, the film is much more complex than it seems on the surface. The creative team does a good job of hiding its complexity within a straightforward narrative. When you watch the film, everything seems to be pretty easy to follow, but when you stop and think about just how many players are involved, it is revealed just how many moving pieces there were that in concert together brought about this particular sequence of events.
Even without the "based on a true story" tag, The Bank Job is a compelling story. There are a number of elements that come together, making this particular job more than just your standard robbery. There are the photographs of high ranking people in compromising situations, the crime lord/activist Michael X who holds some of the main pieces, the agents seeking to stop the blackmail with as little connection as possible, corrupt police officers, a porn king, a love triangle, and more. There really is a lot going on here, and it works even if the only thing you care about is the heist.
Statham has made a career out of playing tough guys and hoods ever since his early appearances in Lock, Stock and Two Smocking Barrels and Snatch. Here he turns in a strong performance that is devoid of the fighting prowess that has infected so many of his more recent outings. Here he is suitably dodgy, but he is also a family man and is looking out for them. He truly holds the center of the film, even if his involvement in the job makes him a bit morally questionable. He is surrounded by fine performances from a number of character actors, all help to sell the project.
Director Roger Donaldson does a great job of evoking the feel of 1970s London. The film has slick production values, but it also has that desaturated look that many films from that era have. You could almost be fooled into believing this was made in the '70s. The pace is snappy and always moving forward, leaving nary a dull moment to be found.
Bottom line. So, is this what really happened? Could this be the way it went down? I have no idea. I do not know much about the actual incident, but it does feel like this could have been how it went down. There is a strong sense of reality imbued into the piece, the script covers its bases, giving all the pieces without laying everything out, giving just enough detail to fit the pieces together. Whatever the reality is, this is as solid and entertaining heist film as has been seen for some time.