Welcome to the evolution of Jason Statham. In The Bank Job it takes him almost 100 minutes to get around to headbutting anybody, and when he does finally get into a fight scene, two of the guys he beats up are old men. Of course that’s not a complaint – if The Bank Job is forever known as ‘The One Where Statham Cold Cocks an Old Dude,’ the film’s already a wild success.
I don’t know that I like the evolution of Statham. I understand that he wants to play roles with descriptions deeper than ‘Bad Ass,’ but I love him in that niche. Sure, Clint Eastwood eventually grew out of his own bad ass niche, but he spent a nice long time in there, and delivered to us a bunch of movies that we could enjoy while he was off shagging Meryl Streep on bridges. The Bank Job doesn’t quite take Statham to the point of being a National Geographic photographer – he’s a minor crook in London’s East End in 1971 who has been trying to go straight with a car dealership inconveniently located in an alleyway. But going straight is tough when you owe money to the local villains (this word gets used more in this movie than in anything without people dressing up in superhero suits), and when Statham gets offered a seemingly airtight shot at robbing a bank vault, he jumps at it.
This new Statham is a little disorienting. When the local villain’s muscle comes to break car windows on the lot, Statham gives them lip but doesn’t take them on. I kept expecting to see one of the guys get a crowbar up his asshole, but that’s not the kind of movie The Bank Job wants to be. I’m not complaining here – The Bank Job is a perfectly passable film for what it is, but anyone expecting lots of patented Statham mayhem will be disappointed. Thankfully Statham’s not a bad leading man even when he’s not punching on dudes, and it’s a pleasure to watch him in the third act as he tries to sort out all the fucked up stuff that’s happening after the titular heist goes off spectacularly well. In fact the third act is the part of the movie that I liked the most, and it kind of made me resent the second act a little.
The Bank Job is based on a real heist; the robbers, unknown to them, were actually pawns in a British crown effort to retrieve very incriminating photos of Princess Margaret from the bank’s vault. They made off with about 4 million pounds, the photos and even more blackmail pictures and a ledger containing information on payouts to crooked cops by the Smut King of Soho. After the robbery the gang of amateurs – they had never hit a bank before – finds themselves hunted by the government’s spy agencies, the crooked cops, the good cops and the criminal element. This is the movie I wanted to see more of – it’s like Lock Stock and Two Smoking Goodfellas – but The Bank Job instead spends a lot of time on the actual heist, which is sort of boring. There are neat British flavor elements – while tunneling into the bank vault the robbers find a plague pit from the 1600s – but the low tech aspects of the heist (and the relative ease with which it’s pulled off) renders it all a little dull. I was actually surprised when the post-heist business ended up being the most exciting part of the film, and I could have watched more of these separate groups bouncing off of each other, trying to get their hands not on the money or the jewels but the damning photos and evidence.
Roger Donaldson’s last film, The World’s Fastest Indian, was the sort of treacly nonsense that gets on my nerves, and while The Bank Job seems to be a million miles away from the story of an old man on a bike, the director is still in a lighter mood. That works for the first two acts, but when things get ugly in the third act – including some gruesome torture – Donaldson doesn’t seem that interested in making things a little heavier. He also films the entire film in Dutch angles; you feel like the camera operator has had a stroke. I think it’s to invoke a mod era or something, but The Bank Job never feels like a movie Terence Stamp would watch, let alone star in.
Donaldson and screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais also seem to miss a major opportunity in the third act; while the beginning of the film feels overstuffed with characters the third act’s back and forth pays off all those intros, but never pays off the undercurrent of class consciousness that is there all along. England is a class-based society, and here we have a movie that spans the royalty all the way through the middle class, the criminal class and even black radical activists, but except for a joke here or there it feels like the film ignores it’s own greatest strength, this sprawl across the classes. ‘What I would have done’ is always the worst sort of criticism, but if I had made The Bank Job I would have cut down the heist – which takes up all of the second act – in favor of a bigger post-heist picture, where the collision of these worlds could be examined.
To its credit The Bank Job, while 110 minutes, moves pretty swiftly. Donaldson has surrounded Statham with a colorful cast (excluding Saffron Burrows, who seems to be metamorphing into a knife), and has turned out an enjoyable film with a dash of style. That said, The Bank Job seems to have the raw materials to be something more, a film that’s better than just enjoyable. I ended up liking The Bank Job, but felt like I could have loved it.
And this new Jason Statham? I like it. At one point I thought that maybe he’d be a Charles Bronson, sort of one note and forever trapped in B movie programmers, but I compared him to Eastwood above for a reason. There’s more to this guy. I just hope that he doesn’t totally abandon kicking immense amounts of ass – we don’t have anybody else who quite fills his niche.