The Bank Job

Critical Mass
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by Troy Patterson

The makers of this extra-­crunchy popcorn movie -- an Inside Man-ish heist flick, but also a spy tale, and ultimately a tribute to an exuberant game of chicken -- claim it's based on a true story. If they're serious, then it's also a masterpiece of investigative journalism, one that shows British intelligence agents concocting a scheme too baroque to believe. Follow this exhilarating loop: In 1971 an ex-­model named Martine (Burrows, as glossy as everything else on display) gets busted smuggling dope into Heathrow, and her part-­time bedmate, a man on the rise at MI5, helps her out of the jam in exchange for a little favor.

A high-­profile Black Power leader named Michael X -- the kind of guy who pals around, radical-­chicly, with John and Yoko -- is himself a drug runner, and has escaped conviction by blackmailing the government: He possesses photos of the queen's sister getting royally screwed by two men. Martine is supposed to recruit some small­time villains from the old neighborhood to plunder the London bank containing Michael X's safe deposit box. But the crooks, led by Statham's Terry, aren't clued in about the royal portraits, and they sure don't know that other customers with MacGuffins in the vault include a high­end madam and a moderately vicious smut king.

This does seem like an awfully roundabout way to steal some dirty pictures. Did anyone consider rigging a court order? Calling Q? Asking nicely? When The Bank Job starts snapping suspense sequences around, though, it doesn't allow you time to glare at whatever holes might pock the plot. (in more relaxed moments, however, you might start wondering at how an obtuse love triangle gums things up, or else thinking that the ending is so happy that it must be real, as no screenwriter over the age of ten would try to make it up.) Some great heist films concentrate on the quiet craftsmanship of the big score; and some very good ones, like The Bank Job -- wild and willfully shaggy -- prefer to revel in the sport of thievery.

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