To Protect the Guilty…


I’ll admit it.  I was more than skeptical when I saw the poster for another Jason Statham movie, especially when the title is The Bank Job.  I mean really, how many times does Statham need to play a low-class British criminal?  He’s like the James Bond of the London underworld, though not nearly as suave.  However, all the positive reviews on rottentomatoes and 2-for-1 ticket night at The Cerrito lured me in.  Turns out, I was pleasantly surprised.  Rather than simply a made-up story about a bank robbery gone wrong, director Roger Donaldson and screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais took their inspiration from actual events that took place in early 1970s London.  In the end, we have a film about a group of rookie bankrobbers who unwittingly protect some naughty politicians and simultaneously shake up all of Scotland Yard.  Ironically, this film about 1970’s London speaks to a theme I see running throughout contemporary American society, specifically the need to police the moral police.

Martine Love (Saffron Burrows) is a one-time model who gets busted for smuggling cocaine back into the UK.  She calls a friend of hers in MI-5 to help her out of the jam.  In return, he has her put together a crew of bank robbers to break into a safety deposit box vault at a Lloyds Bank in the center of London.  It turns out, a black political rebel, Michael X (Peter De Jersey), has some compromising photos of one of the members of the royal family and is using them as blackmail to run amok throughout the British social castes.  If the robbers, Terry Leather (Jason Statham), Dave Shilling (Daniel Mays), Guy Singer (James Faulkner), Bambas (Alki David), and Kevin Swain (Stephen Campbell Moore), can pull of the heist, they get to keep all the buried treasure.  However, as the heist progresses, we learn that the boxes hold items more valuable than money or gold, specifically a porn baron’s ledger tallying all the money he has given to dirty cops and more compromising photos of high ranking British politicians.  The first half of the film focuses on the bank robbery with the second half following the politicians, police, and black rebels as they stop at nothing to get the photos back.

The performances solidly reflect the British social caste. Donaldson offers up a rather straightforward narrative, sexed up by frequent visits to Vogel’s strip club.  Michael Coulter’s cinematography adds a cool, gritty touch befitting both the rookie bank robbers and corrupt politicians.  The real treat of the film is the moral dilemma that the bank heist establishes and the predicament in which the politicians and police find themselves.  Again, this seems to mirror a trend that we see in American “religio-political” life with the likes of Ted Haggard, Elliot Spitzer, Larry Craig, and the list grows daily.  These men take a vehement moral stance against “illicit” sexual behavior, for example, and, in the process, often help make the lives of untold individuals miserable, all the while being guilty of the very “sins” against which they crusade.

Now, The Bank Job does not present its political figures as moral crusaders like Haggard or Spitzer; however, we can assume that the private behavior that the photos capture is certainly not in line with the public persona that they present.  Their efforts to cover up or protect these private behaviors result in tragedy and make them much more dangerous than the bank robbers they seek to capture. In fact, the politicians are responsible for all nefarious deeds in the film with Terry et al simply being pawns in their effort to cover up potential scandal.  The Bank Job is an enjoyable film with a twist, especially in one of the closing titles that says, “The names have been changed to protect the guilty.”

The Bank Job (110 mins.) is rated R for nudity, sexual content, and violence.  Look for it on DVD around early summer.