*The Bank Job* is one of those "inspired by a true story" movies the lesson of which is that while crime might pay (and rather nicely at that), it could just be more trouble than its worth. The heist in question, the robbery of safe deposit boxes in a London bank, took place in 1971, and was known as the "walkie-talkie robbery" after the bandits' preferred method of communication. The loot, if the film written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais is to be believed, included photographs and documents that would have proved quite embarrassing to quite important people in the British government (and the royal family) if they ever saw the light of day. That they did not makes the whole affair one of those things that didn't happen, and which can't be proven to have been prevented from happening, none of which really matters, except to conspiracy theorists who, if they fixate too much on what didn't happen, will miss most of the good stuff that does happen in *The Bank Job*.
Not that the robbers know about any kinky pictures. They're in it for the cash and jewels after ringleader Terry Leather (Jason Statham), a car repair shop owner with shady connections and a spot of trouble with gangsters, gets a hot tip from Martine Love (Saffron Burrows), an ex-flame (maybe) who knows a guy who knows a guy... Terry and his lads Kevin (Stephen Campbell Moore) and Dave (Daniel Mays) bring in a few experts, including con man Guy (James Faulkner) and digging whiz Bambas (Alki David), to dig a tunnel from a deserted luggage shop to the bank vault. Turns out Martine has been put up to the job by a shady character from Britain's security services (Richard Lintern). There are items in the vault belonging to Black Power leader Michael X (aka Michael Abdul Malik, a real life revolutionary figure who hobnobbed with John Lennon). The spooks want Michael X's (Peter De Jersey) stash, but there are also salacious items belonging to an influential madame and one Lew Vogel (David Suchet), the "Soho porn king." Successfully cracking the safe counts as jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire for Terry and the lads -- the cops, the spies, and every unsavory type in London is soon after them and their ill-gotten gains.
*The Bank Job* is fast-paced and fun, the kind of movie that sets out a whole lot of lines and then, with remarkable efficiency, precision, and thoroughness, reels them all in and ties them together. Director Roger Donaldson keeps the pacing brisk -- time is not on the side of the robbers, who improbably pull off a quick job, and then have to think fast to get themselves out of a major jam. For all its energetic plotting, however, the movie makes time to develop its characters and their quirks, and, more importantly, their very human motives.
*The Bank Job* is in its way an old fashioned heist movie, a throwback to the days when minimal planning and a lot of digging in the dirt were all you needed to rob a bank (in movies, anyway). There's nothing smooth, pokerfaced, or *Ocean's 11* about the Terry Leather gang, who owe their success more to dumb luck and desperation than to skill. The duplicity and guile are all on the other side -- these are working class lads who don't own tuxedos, facing off against high-powered men in Savile Row suits. If it's England, there must be a class struggle, and so there is, in the war between Michael X and white Britain, in the testy relations between branches of government, in the give and take between lords and ladies of, shall we say, ill repute, and poking out of the bespoke suit and leather jacket pockets of spooks and crooks. Terry's blokes are a scruffy lot, occupying the lower rungs of British society, but it's a hierarchy of venal blackguards all the way up, and all nicely displayed in *The Bank Job*.