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High-Level Hanky Panky: The heist film gets even grittier

No Life Til Leather The title of the new heist thriller, The Bank Job, doesn't begin to describe the twists and turns this film takes,



No Life Til Leather The title of the new heist thriller, The Bank Job, doesn't begin to describe the twists and turns this film takes, as it delves into 1970s British society. What initially appears to be another buddy-burglary story, much like the Ocean franchise, Snatch, or The Italian Job, instead unravels into a Serpico-style exposé. Only because we know from the outset that the film is based on true events is the audience able to believe an otherwise nearly implausible story.

The 1971 Baker Street bank robbery was under a government gag order for 30 years; no arrests were made, nor was any money ever recovered. After thieves tunneled into a bank vault in London's Baker Street, they looted safe deposit boxes of cash, jewelry, and incriminating evidence. Though the robbery made headlines, the story disappeared almost immediately, because of a "D" notice, which gagged the press.

Director Roger Donaldson (No Way Out) keeps a taught pace from the start. Occasionally, though, the film's tone drifts, and we're not sure if the script is intentionally funny. Various officials are, for example, confused about whether their operatives are British M5 or M6, another character discloses to his friends, amid raucous amusement, the reason he was hired to do porn films. Then, about half way through, the seemingly jaunty burglary turns dark and dangerous. As with other heist films, the audience is manipulated into rooting for the thieves. In this film, it's not so much that we desperately want them to get the money; we just don't want them to get caught in the act. By the end, we see the burglars as victims, or, at least, the most innocent players involved.

Jason Stratham (Transporter, The Italian Job, Snatch) plays Terry, a sort of modern-day desperado, who's willing to take a few risks in order to give his family a financial boost, even if it involves some petty crime. Still, he's in over his heavily whiskered chin in this job. British actress Saffron Burrows (Lorraine on TV's Boston Legal) does justice to her role as the willowy Martin, the model and temptress that talks her old friend Terry into taking on the job. But it's the masterful David Suchet (Hercule Poirot in BBC's "Poirot" series) as the smut-lord Lew Vogel who really commands our attention. Arguably one of the best and most versatile actors of our time, Suchet has the ability to slide into any role, from a sinister, cruel-eyed villain with the Royal Shakespeare Company to the comedic but brilliant figure of Poirot. Here, he's pitch perfect as the vicious Vogel.

As the robbery transpires, you think the film is about to reach its climax. You also know that things go wrong. Just then, the group's radio contact is intercepted by a ham radio operator, and that's when the real tale starts to unfold.

If you're a fan of heist films like the Saint, and the Thomas Crown Affair, you'll probably enjoy The Bank Job. But bear in mind that this film is grittier, more bizarre, and ultimately more disturbing.

Secrets from the Baker Street bank robbery still lurk. One hundred bank clients refused to identify the contents of their bank deposit boxes, thereby never recovering their valuables. One document remains off-limits to the public until the year 2020. We might have to wait until then for a sequel.

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