In 1971, a team of thieves in London tunneled under the Baker Street branch of Lloyds Bank and emptied its vault. The perpetrators of the so-called "Walkie-Talkie Robbery" made off with roughly £3 million in cash, gold and jewelry—the biggest heist in British history.
Despite the fact that a ham radio operator stumbled upon the thieves' walkie-talkie conversation in flagrante delicto, police never made any arrests. Nor was any of the money ever recovered. Press coverage of the crime abruptly ceased four days after the theft was reported. And it's widely believed that the British espionage agency MI5 asked the press to kill the story because its details posed a threat to national security.
The Bank Job is a fictionalized account of that heist. And as director Roger Donaldson (The Recruit, Thirteen Days) lifts a speculative shroud covering one of Great Britain's greatest unsolved crimes, viewers are swept into an elaborate—and sordid—conspiracy involving a royal sex scandal, government and police corruption, powerful underworld pimps, spies, lies and double crosses.
It's certainly no excuse for his criminal activity, but gruff car salesman Terry Leather (who leads the heist) repeatedly tells his wife, Wendy, that he's doing one last job to pay off his debts. Then he's going to leave his unsavory ways behind, he says. Even though he's unfaithful to her—and it's impossible to talk about this film's thin positive themes without such caveats—Terry insists that he loves Wendy. To his credit, I guess, he refuses to run off with ex-girlfriend and co-conspirator Martine Love when she asks him.
For her part, Wendy angrily tells Terry that she committed to him fully when they got married, a vow she's obviously taken seriously even if he hasn't.
In the "honor among thieves" category, Terry does his best to free two of his crew when they're kidnapped by a cold-blooded criminal tycoon named Lew Vogel. Because he has refused to be bribed by Vogel, a local London police officer exhibits a few shreds of integrity (in contrast to many who do not).
One character says, "Lamb of God, forgive us for our sins," while another makes a mocking reference to his boyhood days in a Catholic school. Someone quips, "Money may be your god, but it isn't mine."
Sexual imagery and references are pervasive in The Bank Job. Ms. Love's real motivation for wanting to pull off the robbery is to secure compromising photos that depict Princess Margaret in an explicit group-sex romp. A street thug/black power rabble-rouser named Michael X is using the photos to barter his way out of criminal prosecution for various crimes, including assault, drug charges and running a prostitution ring.
The film opens with a scene of a topless woman cavorting with a man and another woman in the ocean. Her breasts—though not her face—are visible several times in that scene and the group-sex scene that follows. She's shown in bed with at least two other people, one of them perhaps a woman, and one person puts a mouth to her breast. (A photographer outside the window snaps pictures that are displayed several times later in the film.)
Another sex scene also features face-to-breast images, and audiences glimpse the blurry form of a naked woman getting out of bed. One of the guys on Terry's team talks about acting in porn films; a clip from one film is shown in which two women rub bare breasts on his face. An MI5 agent named Gale is shown beginning to peel her underwear off as a man lifts her up to have sex with her. She implies that she enjoys having sex as part of her undercover work.
A group of English politicians are shown at a brothel where a number of topless women—and others in lingerie—serve them drinks. Bare backsides are visible, too. A dominatrix in lingerie ties up a government official. (Again, someone snaps photos that end up in Terry's hands and are seen repeatedly onscreen.)
Terry takes a co-worker to a "stag party" at a strip club before his wedding. At it are many topless dancers and waitresses, most of whom are wearing pasties. Martine is strip-searched at the airport; the camera sees her in her bra and underwear.
Terry and Martine kiss in the vault, and later dialogue implies they had sex there. Repeated mentions are made of married men having affairs; it's alluded to that Martine has been sleeping with at least three different men in a short span of time to get what she wants.
Multiple references are made to prostitution; police officers reportedly receive free oral sex from prostitutes in exchange for leaving a pimp alone. (It's said that one character is disgusted by this.) Repeated exclamations are made about large sexual organs.
The violence doesn't kick into high gear until about two-thirds of the way through—but when it does, things turn a decidedly dark corner. One of Terry's men gets beaten up, then he's tortured by a man who burns his ankles with an industrial torch; we see his clothing begin to burn and see him screaming. Later he's shot point-blank in the head.
Another thief is suffocated with a clear plastic bag. A third is stabbed in the back. Michael X kills a female MI5 agent who was trying to infiltrate his inner circle. He makes her stand in the grave he's dug for her, and we see the machete of one of his thugs coming down on her. (We're spared its impact.) Her partially buried corpse is later uncovered.
A fistfight finds Terry repeatedly pummeling Vogel with fists, feet and elbows. A similar melee involving Terry and one of Vogel's henchmen includes a brick being thrown and shots being fired. Men threatening Terry smash windshields of two cars on his lot and take a whack at another. British agents order Michael X's house burned down after they arrest him.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Characters drink (beer, hard liquor) and smoke throughout the story. Many scenes take place in pubs or at posh parties. When the thieves discover champagne in a safe-deposit box, they pop a couple corks to celebrate.
Martine is detained at a London airport for trying to smuggle drugs back into England. Mention is made of "ganja" and the fact that Michael X is a drug dealer. Gale calls him "a crazy dope-smoking lunatic pimp extraordinaire." Vogel says with a straight face that he's not interested in selling drugs because he feels they are "responsible for the moral decay of the young."
When I was assigned to review The Bank Job, I immediately knew what I was in for. The last Jason Statham film I had the "privilege" of writing about was the odious Crank. And given Statham's recent trajectory as R-rated action star, my professional opinion was that this would be more of the same.
I was partially right.
Compared to Statham's recent hard-R adrenaline assaults, The Bank Job actually has something resembling an engaging narrative. Which is why mainstream critics in general are giving it high artistic marks for its take on a famous, unsolved heist that remains imbedded in the British psyche. USA Today's Claudia Puig wrote, for instance, "Imagine a blend of Snatch, Ocean's 11 and The Italian Job."
That's accurate—to a point. Where The Bank Job deviates from the Ocean's Eleven/Italian Job template is in its extremely explicit content—of which there is no shortage. An opening ménage à trois puts moviegoers on notice that this is no escapist PG-13-rated George Clooney bank-robbery caper. Indeed, frequent, graphic sexual imagery, combined with some savage violence and dozens of harsh obscenities means that The Bank Job's zip code is much closer to War's zone than anything Mr. Clooney and his nouveau Rat Pack cronies ever attempted in Vegas.
OK. I was completely right.