I hadn’t fully realized until the middle of Monday night that SXSW has opened with heist films in the last two years. This year, of course, was the Vegas gambling thriller 21 and last year was Scott Frank’s acclaimed (and award-winning) rural noir film, The Lookout. Plus, we played Flawless, the British heist film that opens this weekend in theaters. So, you might think I’ve had enough, but not so. On Monday night, I took the opportunity to create my own European crime festival (a sort of “double-cross double-feature”) with screenings of Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1956 French classic Bob la flambeur and Roger Donaldson’s new British heist flick, The Bank Job. Two films, separated by 50 years and the English Channel.
Bob la flambeur screened as part of the ongoing Austin Cinematheque series at the Texas Union Theater, and I’m thankful it did. An admirer of Melville’s work and influence, I’d never seen the film but was enraptured by its pace and punch. A tangled web orchestrated by the talented and kind Bob (Roger Duchesne) slowly devolves into chaos as he tries to spearhead the robbery of a Deauville casino. Personal politics, and Bob’s own natural abilities, soon prove troublesome and it’s compelling to watch as each player makes a move to save themselves. Honestly, why did we need Ocean’s 12 when they could have just re-released this far superior European caper?
After the film, I said goodbye to some friends and rushed down the street to the Dobie Theater in an attempt to finish the night with The Bank Job. I met up with friend Dan Brown (a big Bob fan who’d seen it already), and we settled in to watch the film, which I think pleasantly surprised a lot of folks by being a critical hit upon release this month. I can see why. On the surface, the film could have been no more than a straight-to-cable, cops-and-robbers tale. Instead, using terrific editing and a solid screenplay, the whole production is elevated to be a crackerjack heist movie.
Based on the true story of the 1971 Lloyds Bank robbery in London, the saga of The Bank Job is far from simple. It interweaves the political climate of the era with twists, turns, and suitable layers of deception. Jason Statham serves as a reliable lead in the film, only making his less-than-savory work in Hollywood product like The Transporter, Crank, and Cellular all the more aggravating. He should stick these kinds of films, like his early work with Guy Ritchie, which helped propel his career. On second thought, he did re-team with Ritchie for last year’s dreadful Revolver, so I guess it’s more complicated than that. Regardless, he does fine work with The Bank Job, a film that is thankfully much better than it should be.
After tonight, and SXSW 2008, I think I may be done with heist films for a couple weeks. Or am I? After looking at next week’s selection for the Austin Cinematheque, I see they’re screening Stanley Kubrick’s racetrack heist film, The Killing. Just when I thought I was out…