I’ve loved movies far back as I can remember. But in the past few years, I’ve watched fewer and fewer movies. Part of this is because Lisa doesn’t much care for movies, so we don’t watch them as a “couples activity”. Another reason is that TV has gotten better and better. With Dexter, The Fixer, Pushing Daisies, Ashes to Ashes, Lost and a dozen other great shows broadcast directly into my home, why go to the movies?
Yet another reason I don’t watch a lot of movies these days – the main reason, in fact – is because movies don’t challenge me any more. We’re all familiar with romantic comedies, right? Boy meets girl, some problem comes up that keeps boy and girl apart, and the problem is resolved at the end of the film (which either involves driving at top speed to the closest airport or a party scene full of people dancing to classic pop songs like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” or some such dreck). Predictable, right? To me, all movies are like that these days… unless you go the other route and watch nothing but Lars Von Trier or David Lynch movies, which are “anti-predictable”… so much so that you want to bang your head against the wall.
This is why I was so surprised by recent film The Bank Job. All I knew going into it was that it was “based on a true story” and that it starred Jason Statham (who could be one of my favorite actors if he’d stop appearing in shitty movies). Given how much I love Guy Ritchie films I figured it’d be just another Brit gangster film… and boy was I wrong!
Staham plays a guy called Terry. He owns a failing used car business somewhere in London in the 1970s. He’s apparently borrowed money from a less than legitimate resource, because two “debt collectors” show up one day and smash up the two decent cars Terry has to sell. He needs money to pay his loan shark off… and quickly.
As if by magic, one of Terry’s old flames, Martine (Saffron Burrows), shows up one day with a plan: a branch of Lloyd’s Bank on Baker Street is having their alarm system replaced, and so the bank will be without a working alarm system for a couple of days while the upgrade takes place. Terry quickly assembles a team of low-level criminals and puts the plan in motion. They rent a leather goods store a couple of stores down from the bank, then begin tunneling under a chicken takeaway to get to the vault, which is stuffed with cash, bonds and jewels.
But there’s more to the story than meets the eye. It’s neither accident nor coincidence that Martine shows up with a bank robbery plan just when Terry needs lots of money. Martine, it seems, was busted trying to bring a not insignificant amount of drugs into the country. At some point during her short incarceration, an MI-5 agent (Britain’s version of the FBI*) offers her a deal: get a gang together and rob the Lloyd’s Bank (and specifically, safety deposit box 118) and not only will they let her go, they’ll even let her keep any of the loot they take from the robbery!
One might wonder… “what sort of thing could be so serious that MI-5 would not only encourage someone to rob a bank, they’d offer immunity to them and let them keep their ill gotten gains?” How about photographs of Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth’s younger sister, involved in an interracial orgy?
Worse yet, the photographs are owned by Michael X, a pimp, drug dealer and illegal casino operator who took up the “Black Power” cause in the UK. He was the first non-white to be prosecuted for violating the Race Relations Act when he publicly urged the shooting of any black women seen with a white man. MI-5 is desperate to lock up Michael X, but as long as Michael X threatens to turn the photographs over to the media, they’re powerless to stop him.
As happens with intricate plans, things don’t quite work out the way anyone had planned. Martine was supposed to keep her deal with M-I5 a secret and let everyone else take the fall for the robbery. When she confesses the real motive behind the robbery to the gang, everything changes. And when they find a gangster’s ledger that contains records of hundreds of police bribes and compromising photographs of a high-ranking Member of Parliament (both of which are completely unrelated to the safety deposit box with the photos of Princess Margaret)… well, things get really complicated.
I won’t spoil the movie for you any more… like I said, things do work out in the end, but like I also said, it’s not exactly in the way most of them intended. The most interesting thing about this film is the “based on a true story” label. How much of this story is real, and how much of it is mere speculation?
Much of the details that make up the movie are still classified by the British government (Michael X’s file, for instance, is sealed until 2054). The film’s makers claimed to have an “inside source”, who was identified in press reports as “George McIndoe”. And it appears that the filmmakers went to decent lengths to match what’s known about the incident with the film (the store they rented was indeed called “Le Sac”, and the takeaway was called “Chicken Express”, for example). And of course, Princess Margaret really existed, as did Michael X. So who knows. What I know is that the film is wonderfully entertaining. It far exceeded my expectations, which more than I can say about most films these days!
* – OK, the FBI and MI5 are quite different, actually. But for the purposes of this post, they’re close enough.