At long last, another film has come along that justifies my faith in Jason Statham. After catching my attention in ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ and the deceptively witty ‘Snatch,’ the oft-typecast Brit has lowered his standards to wallow in hyperactive, American junk like ‘The Transporter,’ ‘‘Crank,’ and ‘‘War’ (don’t even get me started on ‘A Dungeon Siege Tale’). Through it all, I’ve inexplicably defended Statham’s talent and career, all while pining for his return to better material. To my relief, ‘The Bank Job’ is a spiffy spin on a genuine 1971 bank heist from director Roger Donaldson (‘The World’s Fastest Indian,’ ‘Thirteen Days’) that finally gives Statham a solid script to chew on.
When smalltime crook Terry Leather (Statham) is approached by an old flame named Martine (Saffron Burrows) with the criminal opportunity of a lifetime, he convinces a handful of his associates (played with naturalistic flair by Stephen Moore, Daniel Mays, James Faulkner, Alki David, and Michael Jibson) to help him break into a local bank and loot the contents of its safety deposit boxes. What he doesn’t know is that Martine is being forced to arrange the heist by British Security Service (MI5) so she can pillage the contents of a particular box that belongs to a militant revolutionary. Worse still, Terry forgets to account for the more dangerous owners -- crooked cops trying to keep a payoff ledger from getting out in the open, politicians worried about compromising photos taken by a high-class madam, and a greedy gang lord, to name a few. As Terry and Martine struggle to stay afloat in the ensuing madness, they try to survive encounters with the police, a group of gangsters, and a pack of conniving agents from MI5.
As much as I enjoy a good Statham performance, most of the credit for ‘The Bank Job’ rests squarely on Donaldson’s meticulous attention to detail, his prioritization of interpersonal relationships over the execution of the heist itself, and the tight and compelling script he nabbed from screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. Initially, the film can be quite overwhelming as Donaldson introduces a countless number of characters and dozens of seemingly extraneous subplots. However, as more and more pieces fall into place, it becomes easier to sort through the onslaught of information and understand the complexity of the tale. Better still, when the heist reaches its climax fifty minutes into the film, you should start to grasp the scope of the story and the director’s actual endgame. ‘The Bank Job’ isn’t merely a heist flick -- it’s a near-epic exploration of ‘70s London as well as one of the more surreal true stories a film has ever tried to tackle.
I also wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking the film buckles under the weight of creative license and Tinsletown embellishment. When I first watched ‘The Bank Job,’ I naturally assumed Donaldson’s depiction of the heist (and the corruption it inadvertently uncovered) had been greatly exaggerated to make the film more appealing to a modern action-hungry audience. Imagine my surprise when I learned otherwise. While my assumption proved true to an extent (there are a few obligatory alterations, subplot additions, and narrative trims), ‘The Bank Job’ is a fairly accurate adaptation of the evolution, progression, and fallout of the real deal. Just knowing that simple fact made my second visit to the film that much more rewarding.
The biggest downside is that the sprawling nature of the story will turn off some viewers looking for a less demanding film. As I mentioned before, I didn’t really start to fall in love with ‘The Bank Job’ until I returned to it a second time (after plowing through the Blu-ray edition’s informative special features). Had I never returned to check it out again, I doubt I would ever have realized Donaldson’s adaptation was so well developed and constructed.
In the end, ‘The Bank Job’ is an unexpected treat. It not only gives Statham a much-needed meaty role, it offers genre fans a smarter take on a classic formula. Every actor delivers a spot on performance, the script documents one of the most bizarre real-life heists in Europe, and Donaldson doesn’t leave out any of the more unbelievable elements of the story. I’m not about to say ‘The Bank Job’ deserves an Oscar or wouldn’t have been better with a low-key aesthetic, but it’s a unique and thrilling heist flick that should keep you guessing what’s coming next.
Do you like yellow? I ask because it’s practically a prerequisite to enjoying this drab 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer from Lionsgate. While I have no doubt Donaldson intentionally skewed the palette to recall the tone of a rather decadent 1970s London, his bronzed fleshtones lack a naturalistic appearance and oftentimes blend in with the warmly-lit backdrops (instantly reminding me of the muddy ‘In Good Company’ HD DVD). Even so, the film’s bland spread of colors are noise free, stable to a fault (more on that later), and feature decent blacks and contrast leveling. Detail is also fairly revealing. Jump to the last act of the film and take note of how much better the picture looks when Donaldson dumps the weathered palette in favor of a cooler, undersaturated one. Textures are suddenly a bit crisper, fine details look sharper, delineation is slightly more revealing, and depth receives a welcome boost. Don’t get me wrong, it’s only a minor improvement, but noteworthy nonetheless.
I suppose I could even compliment the transfer on the cleanliness of its image -- I didn’t detect any significant artifacting, source noise, or print damage whatsoever. Unfortunately, some waxy faces and blurred textures lead me to believe ‘The Bank Job’ has been lathered with DNR (Digital Noise Reduction). While it’s possible I’m confusing the results of Donaldson’s aesthetic choices with the notorious scrubbing process, the resulting picture just doesn’t look as refined or faithful as it should. In the end, ‘The Bank Job’ includes a decent, decidedly high-def video transfer that simply can’t live up to other, more impressive releases from Lionsgate.
Underwhelming picture aside, ‘The Bank Job’ sounds utterly fantastic. Featuring yet another remarkable DTS HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track from Lionsgate, this Blu-ray release boasts crisp dialogue, perfect prioritization, and ever-present rear speaker support. There’s a scene early in the film in which Terry and Martine discuss the job at hand in a quiet restaurant -- the crowd chatter is evenly distributed across the soundfield, ambience is detailed enough to reproduce every clanking piece of silverware, and their whispers sound as if they’re coming from your home theater rather than a set of speakers. The LFE channel is even more aggressive. Listen as Terry and the gang drill beneath the bank, jackhammer a concrete floor, and tear through the safety deposit boxes. Low-end extension is impeccable, delivering a variety of pulses and rumbles that packed quite a sonic punch.
On the technical front, pans are essentially invisible, directionality is eerily precise, and the soundscape never anchors itself to the front speakers. Best of all, the film’s mesmerizing music comes alive with heavy bass beats, brusque high-end instrumentation, and a centralized presence that supports the soundfield rather than dominating or submitting to it. From the opening grooves to the closing rhythms, I was more than pleased with the score’s fidelity. Ultimately, ‘The Bank Job’ may not be the most bombastic flick on the block, but it offers fans a near-perfect, immersive audio experience that showcases how a properly mastered track should sound.
’The Bank Job’s Blu-ray debut includes all of the special features that appear on the film’s concurrently-released SD DVD. The content itself is short and sweet, providing fans with plenty of information about the film and the real heist without growing dull or repetitive. Alas, the video features -- while presented in anamorphic widescreen -- have simply been ported to the disc in standard definition.
’The Bank Job’ is nothing like I expected. I thought I was walking into yet another variation of ‘Crank,’ but instead, I discovered an intriguing flick with an excellent script and notable performances. The Blu-ray edition features an above average (albeit problematic) video transfer, a remarkable DTS HD lossless audio track, and a revealing supplemental package. The disc and film may not be perfect, but there’s enough here to warrant a solid recommendation from me.