The Bank Job isn’t a bad film as much as it is an easily forgettable film, often a far worse label. Average is a cursed rating for a film if there is nothing within the content of the decent film to make it stay in the memory. The result is a mildly entertaining experience that is soon left behind like a fast food meal eaten out of convenience rather than enjoyment. In the history of film this has proven true time and time again. We remember the good and we remember the bad. If an average film is like a fast-food meal, a bad film can be like food poisoning, and an evening spent gripping a toilet bowl is not easily forgotten. This is why I can still recall Caligula, Gigli and dozens of other infamous films from the past, but trying to remember The Bank Job, which I have just seen, seems like a task worth less than the effort it takes.
The largest problem with The Bank Job can’t be helped, because it digs down to the very root of what the film is. The Bank Job is based on a true story. This is often thought to ensure riveted audiences, as if the knowledge that what is being seen actually happened is enough to make an otherwise slow moving crime caper seem that much more exciting. The actual premise of the film seems promisingly based on the mysterious 1971 Lloyds Bank robbery, which was covered by the press shortly until high government officials suddenly ceased all press coverage. Rumors leaked that the vault broken into had contained photos of the Queen’s sister in revealing and compromising positions. It was also said that a powerful drug dealer and Black Power leader, named Michael X after the American Malcolm X, was the one holding these photos and The Bank Job has him using these photos as a way of remaining safe from the government. The Bank Job envisions what can only be hypothesized about, since Michael X was hanged in 1975 and his file to remain closed until 2054, but the scenario that screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (Across the Universe) have come up with involves a conspiracy to incarcerate Michael X that needed to involve bank robbers.
Jason Statham stars as Terry Leather, the leader of a group of small time criminals offered the opportunity for the heist of a lifetime by an ex-flame, Martine Love (Saffron Burrows). Martine doesn’t give the reasons for the cleared path and inside information to her fellow bank robbers, so they think they are only robbing the vault for the cash, but soon after they have completed the theft they find that many unsavory characters held precious goods in this particular vault, and are willing to do anything to ensure that their secrets remain buried.
Like most crime capers, The Bank Job is ultimately broken down into is conflict and resolution, and The Bank Job is so infuriatingly void of conflict that the resolution soon becomes expected and hardly earned. All but one of the bank robbers seem to receive a free ride due to fortunate circumstances that only one of them was aware of when they started, and the oblivious good luck of the amateur criminals leaves little at stake within the story. Even when the situation turns sour for one of the robbers, it is difficult to feel what is at stake with these characters. Hardly any time is spent fleshing the thieves out as real people, flawed or otherwise. More time is spent obsessing over the true absurdity of the situation than is ever spent distinguishing who the people involved were. The facts take focus while the characters quickly fall into the background, and for that reason nothing feels at stake when they are in danger because we don’t necessarily care about them, nor are we encouraged to.
Even when the film manages to create some conflict, however minimal it may be, these situations are wasted by direct filmmaking that is void of suspense or mystery. Even though all but one of the thieves are oblivious to the secrets held in the vault, the audience is given this information extremely early on. We are also witness to all sides of the crime as it is being executed. We are permitted to follow the crooks into the vault, but are also given the point-of-view from the lookout as well, so even when the walky-talky is dropped and communication ceases between the two, the audience still sees everything. Even the attempts from the police to track down which bank is being robbed are shown, so that we know what the robbers only find out much later. By giving the audience every bit of information we may have all sides to the true story the film is based on, but the execution of this is far too concerned with showing everything rather than selectively showing the angles that might have made the film more suspenseful.
The Bank Job is directed by Roger Donaldson, who has proved extremely capable of portraying facts in the past with his riveting Thirteen Days, the film about the details involving the Cuban Missile Crisis, but The Bank Job seems to fall into the much wider category of his forgettable films such as Cocktail (1988) and Dante’s Peak (1997). Even Donaldson’s last film The World’s Fastest Indian (2005) benefited from the simple telling of a true story, but his filmmaking once again seems uneven with the speculation involved in The Bank Job. Perhaps he is simply unable to adapt to the uncommitted writing from Clement and La Frenais, but The Bank Job doesn’t seem able to decide what the film should focus on, and as a result it shows everything and nothing at all.