King of Thieves
Michael Caine, Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Charlie Cox, Michael Gambon
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…a robbery at Zimmer frame pace.
Bank robbery films are a great genre, with all their inbuilt tension and connection to our universal desire to strike it rich. The cinema is strewn with great examples and when you add a killer British cast like this one, you should be on to a winner. The director, James Marsh has also made some fine films (recently The Theory of Everything, The Mercy and the great docos Project Nim and Man on Wire), so he has earned the right to have a go at this genre. It is just a shame that he doesn’t quite bring off the big one here. Cinematically, this is the equivalent of breaking into the Tower of London and coming away with only a couple of quid. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
The film is based around the true story of these professional thieves/career criminals who broke into a safe deposit facility in Hatton Garden in 2015 where they lightened the load of a few safe deposit boxes to the tune of about 25 million pounds.
We join the story when a younger crim, Basil (Charlie Cox), who has the key to the security system, approaches old lag Brian (Michael Caine). Brian digs up some old associates – Terry (Jim Broadbent), Kenny (Tom Courtenay), Danny (Ray Winstone) and their fence, Billy the Fish (Michael Gambon). Much of the film recreates their ingenious but also laborious tunneling into the vault.
The problem is that we are used to robberies in the Hollywood mode (a la Ocean’s Eleven) being swift and nifty, with tense music and swirling camera moves. Here we get drills grinding and old men bickering. It may be realistic, but it isn’t cinematic. It is a robbery at Zimmer frame pace. Nor is there much tension in the overarching plot; the crims were all ‘known to the police’ and once the cops got onto to one of them it was easy to trace the others.
The other problem is the age of the estimable cast. This is the elephant in the room and the director decides to make it a thing in itself. However, there’s only so many jokes you can make about falling asleep on the job or needing to pee every few minutes, before it erodes our interest and our patience. The actors, too, rein in their performances too much. For example, Ray Winstone – who in his prime was scarier than a Pitbull with rabies – seems a bit mild here. Caine, even in his rheumy-eyed twilight is still a huge screen presence but he can’t carry the whole film. It is a shame because a cast like this ought to make it a must-see, at least on paper. Perhaps they could have passed on this ‘one last job’; after all, it’s not as if they haven’t got enough in the bank themselves.