This caper film stars Martin Sheen as Stephen Booker, an unemployed American architect in London who needs to jump-start his finances. Enter criminal mastermind Mike Daniels (Albert Finney), who gathers a group of thieves together to rob an impregnable London bank of millions by coming in through the sewers. Needing the money and the chance, Stephen, when offered, willingly joins the gang in their robbery attempt. Cinematography by Michael Reed (On Her Majesty's Secret Service).
There's something special about a good heist movie. Just on the face value of the concept, it puts the audience in the position of having to root for the bad guys. It's the rare occasion where you actually don't want the honest guy to win - especially if the heist in question is particularly clever or difficult. We want to see these thieves come up with a hair-brained scheme to crack a vault or break into a museum and make off with the goods undetected. With John Quested's smart and savvy 1981 thriller 'Loophole,' we get to enjoy watching an honest man turn to crime in order to pull off one of the most daring and dangerous heists ever planned.
American Stephen Booker (Martin Sheen) is a successful architect living with his family in London. While he may be successful, he's into the bank for two mortgages and other expenditures. When the partnership Stephen is in fails to secure a lucrative contract and goes belly up, it's the exact wrong time for his wife Dinah (Susannah York) to invest £10,000 in an interior design business. With few prospects and the bank manager Godfrey (Robert Morely) breathing down his neck, Stephen becomes desperate. Pressed on his heels, an offer to rebuild and expand an office building at the behest of a man called Daniels (Albert Finney) and his associate Mr. Gardner (Colin Blakely) is exactly what Stephen needs to find stability. Just when everything is going right, it all comes crashing down when Stephen realizes he's been duped into participating in a plot to break into the most secure bank vault in London. With no other honest options left, the promise of a minimum payout of £500,000 becomes too good for Stephen to resist.
The best parts of a heist movie are watching the plan come together and seeing whether or not the gang gets away with it. As long as the characters are fun, flawed, and worth rooting for, the audience becomes more invested in seeing everything executed. Naturally, no plan is without its share of kinks and when the group of thieves must think on their feet, suspense and tension are amped up and you naturally become sucked into the action. 'Loophole,' however, is relatively content with keeping the kinks in the plan to a minimum. Much of the film revolves around Albert Finney's Daniels wooing and seducing Martin Sheen's honest, straight as an arrow Booker into a risky criminal act. To that end, we don't really get to enjoy much of the planning stage as the scheme is relatively straightforward. As for the titular "Loophole," the gang exploits is merely bureaucratic stupidity that prevents them from getting caught in the act.
When the plan is simple and the chance of being caught slim, the film wisely uses nature to take care of the suspense. As our gang of thieves must tunnel underneath the vault through the sewer system, the drama, and suspense of their caper comes from rats, claustrophobia, CO2 gas buildup, and an unseasonal torrential rainstorm that threatens to drown them out. The majority of the fun to be found in 'Loophole' comes from is watching the thieves deal with each of these seemingly minor obstacles. They may be small, but when things stack up, they become major problems.
Taken as a whole, 'Loophole' is a good bit of suspense fun and that's about it. Performances are generally solid as Martin Sheen and Albert Finney are in terrific form and the always great Jonathan Pryce is a true standout. But to that point, the film really could have used some sort of genuine human antagonist for the group to work against. Some smart and on point guard who sniffs things out or a detective on the trail of Daniels after his last heist, something that would add some more drama to the proceedings would have made this good film great. That isn't to say that the film is boring, it isn't, it just could have benefitted from the stakes being raised. 'Loophole' is an uncomplicated yet easy film to enjoy. It isn't amazing, but it isn't terrible either and well worth spending the 105-minute runtime watching.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Loophole' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber Studio Classics and is pressed onto a Region A BD-25 disc. Housed in a sturdy standard Blu-ray case, the disc loads directly to a static image main menu with music from the film playing featuring traditional navigation options.
With a 1.85:1 1080p transfer, 'Loophole' arrives in pretty terrific shape. The film displays an even and present grain presence ensuring strong and discernible details. Colors are robust with vivid life-like primaries and healthy flesh tones. There are a couple of odd patches where the colors can appear a bit washed out as the adjoining scenes aren't affected - so that is the one real odd spot to speak of. The black levels are rich and inky with plenty of shadow separation providing a notable three-dimensional presence and sense of depth even in the darkest scenes in the sewer. The source print for this transfer is in relatively terrific shape as the only damage is some small patches of very slight speckling. All around, this is a great looking transfer.
'Loophole' is presented with an all around pretty great English DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio mix. The only real issue that most folks will find particularly puzzling is during a scene on an airplane within the first five minutes or so of the film. There is an odd amount of extra hiss present. I suspect this was intentional to depict the interior cabin sound of an airplane, but it doesn't sound natural and can actually start to overwhelm the dialogue. Thankfully the actors are speaking loud enough that you won't have a difficult time understanding what is being said. After that, this mix is smooth sailing. Dialogue is cleanly rendered throughout. Sound effects and scoring provide a nice sense of space and dimension to the mix. Imaging is a tad restrained but effective and levels are well balanced without any need to monitor your volume.
Audio Commentary: Director John Quested and moderator Adam Schartoff of FilmWax Radio combine forces to provide an engaging and interesting commentary track. Quested offers up some great details while Schartoff does a great job at keeping the conversation moving without any significant gaps or lulls in the conversation.
Theatrical Trailer: (HD 1:26)
'The Internecine Project' Trailer: (SD 3:00)
'The File of the Golden Goose' Trailer: (HD 2:37)
'Thunderbolt and Lightfoot' Trailer: (SD 2:00)
'Juggernaut' Trailer: (HD 2:54)
'When 8 Bells Toll' Trailer: (HD 2:49)
While 'Loophole' certainly isn't the greatest heist film ever conceived, it's fun and effective and manages to be an entertaining way to spend an evening. Kino Lorber brings the film to Blu-ray in terrific fashion with a solid A/V presentation and an interesting commentary track. For those hankering for some disposable fun with great performances, 'Loophole' is absolutely worth a look.