I had a very bad reaction to The Italian Job within the first few minutes. Donald Sutherland, playing a thief who's tempted out of retirement by the prospect of boosting $35 million worth of gold bars in Venice, laments to Mark Wahlberg as the kid organizing the heist that he's spent most of his adult life in jail. He's not complaining that he was lowly enough to commit the crimes that put him there but that he had to be in jail, and the moviemakers play it soft, as if we'll sympathize and really hope he gets away with this last job. At moments like this I turn into Republican Alan the way Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk, and though I was alone I believe I said out loud, "You're a thief! You belong in jail!"
Is there anything special about these felons that might justify the movie's treating them as heroes? Sutherland gives Wahlberg advice on how to be the right kind of thief--the kind who steals in order to live a "rich life" rather than for the thievery itself--which we are apparently to take as precious wisdom. Then, as an example of the rich life, after the thieves have got the gold (by, among other things, painting an explosive substance over a Renaissance fresco in order to blow a ceiling out), they stand around a snowy mountain pass toasting their accomplishment by swigging Dom Perignon straight from the bottle. Considering how important your sense of smell is to your sense of taste, I wondered whether drinking it this way you could distinguish champagne from a crisp cider. (And no, the movie isn't showing us they're gorillas, it's trying to impress us, and succeeds with the wine no better than it had earlier when one of the characters referred to Leonardo, whom he calls "da Vinci," as if that were his surname.) The only reason I stayed was to see if the trailer had actually given away the entire plot, as Iris pointed out to Lily and me when we first saw it. (It did.) My only comfort was recalling that Sutherland, who has become so classy-custardy it's impossible to find any traces in his acting of the intriguingly unforced lead he was in M*A*S*H (1970), Klute (1971), and Don't Look Now (1973), would be killed within minutes.
As anyone who saw that mini-movie of a trailer knows, Edward Norton is the rat within the pack who steals the stolen gold and leaves the gang for dead. That's not much of a spoiler since most of the movie is about how Wahlberg and cronies plan to steal it back. They enlist Charlize Theron as Sutherland's daughter who has used the safebreaking skills she inherited from her father for legal means. Her father's criminal career broke her heart but she's angry enough about his murder to join the crooks. She says she wants to see Norton's face when he loses the gold, which she might have done by contacting the FBI. Alternatively, the movie might be a lot more interesting if she played an insider's double game, mirroring Norton's in the beginning but on the right side of the law. Otherwise, what's the point of making her honest in the first place? The movie might even have gained some of the heartcracking sense of impossibility of Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight (1998) (Theron's pairing with Wahlberg certainly could use some tension). Instead she joins forces for this preposterous game and the brain-dead movie doesn't see her turning to larceny as a form of corruption.