A heist turns to hush-up as a bank vault spills secrets

Posted: March 07, 2008

Suppose they staged a robbery and nobody was arrested?

According to The Bank Job, Roger Donaldson's high-tension thriller inspired by an actual 1971 heist, thieves tunnel into a bank vault in Central London, pry open its safety-deposit boxes, and haul off the loot - only to learn that cash and jewels are the least valuable objects in their rucksacks.

The unexpected twist, one that might be found in Bond's dry dry Martini, is that depositors are too ashamed or afraid to itemize the stolen goods. And that the government puts a gag order on reporters because coverage poses a threat to national security.

Why? Seems that the Marylebone branch of Lloyds of London is the preferred vault of madams, pornographers and drug dealers who, for purposes of blackmail, stow sexually incriminating photos and payoff ledgers there. From Buckingham Palace to Parliament to police precincts across town, authorities have much to fear if the contents of the fireproof metal boxes are made public.

Not that Terry Leather (Jason Statham, of the sandpaper face and voice), an East End roughneck who imagines himself the heistmeister, is aware of such subtleties. When his ex, Martine (Saffron Burrows), whispers that there will be an interruption of service in the alarm system at Lloyd's and that they can mole in and out of the vault undetected, he's game.

Little does Terry know that the robbery's actual mastermind is another of Martine's beaus, Tim (Richard Lintern). He's a James Bond-type on her majesty's secret service, charged with recovering photos of a royal in a compromising position.

When Terry recognizes that he and his mates have been set up to get their hands dirty to keep those of the posh people clean, he does some quick thinking that is as vastly satisfying as it is highly unlikely.

Donaldson, deft maker of kindred political intrigues such as Marie, No Way Out, and Thirteen Days, directs in a wry, spry style, propelling viewers through the densely plotted story that connects the high-born to low-lifes.

The period details and performances are nicely underplayed, particularly by Statham and the hypnotic David Suchet as a Soho pornographer. All in all, the film written by Dick Clement and Ian LaFrenais (The Commitments, Across the Universe) feels both absolutely of the 1970s and absolutely fresh.

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://go.philly.com/flickgrrl/

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