Heist films, from the Ocean’s movies to The Italian Job, have evolved into fantasy. They’ve become capers of sci-fi technology and unreal cunning, executed with a timing so split-second it’s almost atomic. One of the pleasures of The Bank Job is that it returns us to the days when robbing a bank was a gritty, hole-in-the-wall affair. In this crackling tale of low crooks and highball politics, set in 1971 (it’s based on a true story), the blokes who break into a vault of safe-deposit boxes haven’t set out to do anything all that ingenious. Led by Jason Statham, that sexy scowler who’s like Michael Madsen crossed with Daniel Craig, they rent out a storefront two doors down from a Lloyds Bank in London, dig a deep hole, and tunnel through the sewer with a jackhammer, making an unholy racket in the chicken joint above. They’re not clever, just committed.
What they don’t realize is that the crime has been set in motion by the British government, which wants to retrieve a stash of photos that show Princess Margaret at an orgy. It’s not clear that this actually happened, but it’s nice to think that it did, and the logistical details of the crime are mostly true. Watching The Bank Job, you buy the heist, and you also buy the entertaining layer cake of British society — the black radicals, smut lords, and MI5 agents who treat cops like janitors, all fighting for their piece of the action. A-