THE BANK JOB * * *
Cert 15, 111 mins
On a Monday morning, 37 years ago this September, the newspapers were full of headlines about thieves who had tunnelled into the Lloyd’s bank on Baker Street and made off with the biggest haul since the Great Train Robbery.
Dubbed "the walkie-talkie robbery" on account of communications between the gang picked up by a radio ham, it was front page news for three days. Then, suddenly, everything went quiet as the government slapped a D notice on the case preventing further media coverage.
Rumours began to spread that this was because among the loot from the vault were sexually compromising photos taken of a certain Royal princess on Mustique that self-styled black activist and drug dealer Michael X was using as blackmail to keep from being prosecuted.
The heist was, it was said, set up by MI5 with the gang oblivious that they were just stooges.
That, at least, is the speculative premise behind this tautly crafted and thoroughly watchable British B movie crime thriller that also weaves in the Soho porn underworld, police corruption and vice dens for kinky politicians for good period measure.
Other than X and Lord Mountbatten, no real names are used but it’s not hard to join the dots and the fact that at least one member of the gang served as adviser suggests at least a partial air of authenticity.
Jason Statham’s the cash-strapped small-time thief talked into assembling a crew (Daniel Mays and Stephen Campbell Moore among them) for the job by old flame Saffron Burrows who’s been blackmailed into laying the bait by her oily MI5 associate who, in turn, has been charged with recovering the photos.
What MI5 doesn’t know, and which sets up the cat and mouse third act as things get rather nasty with betrayals and the gang fighting to survive, is that the deposit boxes also contain details of protection money pay offs to the vice squad by a vicious porn king (an icily chilling David Suchet).
Not to mention snaps of certain Ministers enjoying Cynthia Payne-style recreation. Given some 100 box holders never came forward to declare their losses, who knows what else was there.
Switching from caper comedy to brutal violence, the tone’s uneven and some of the dialogue clunky, but Statham and his boys are your typical loveable rogues and the bad guys (on both sides of the law) are thoroughly unpleasant and contemptible, thereby ensuring an entertaining ride to its inevitable crowd pleasing ending.
UNTRACEABLE * * *
Cert 18, 101 mins
There was a moment, six years back, when Diane Lane looked as if she might finally gain admittance to the inner circle of Hollywood actresses.
However, the buzz around her Oscar nomination and various Best Actress wins for Unfaithful swiftly dissipated with the arrival of the sweet but flimsy Under The Tuscan Sun followed by a series of forgettable box office misfires. Hollywoodland served a brief reminder of her screen fire, but sank without trace and her current brief cameo in Jumper felt like a profession/brick wall collision.
Good news then that, while hardly a masterpiece, this tense cyber-thriller from Gregory Hoblit, the director Primal Fear and Fracture, could re-ignite studio and audience interest.
Coincidentally similar to Waz in that the serial killer is abducting and torturing their tenuously connected victims to take warped revenge for the death of a relative, it’s also reflects a growing concern about the voyeuristic tendencies and moral desensitisation the internet (and by extension torture porn like Saw) encourages by offering access to ghoulish content in the name of "entertainment".
Lane plays Jennifer Marsh, a widowed single mother FBI agent who works alongside junior sidekick Griffin (Colin Hanks) in the Portland cyber-crime division.
Routine identity fraud cases take a back seat when she comes across a website called Kill With Me? which, quickly working its way up from cat to humans, invites visitors to watch live streaming as the victims are killed by ingeniously elaborate means.
The more people that log on, the faster they die. Needless to say, the hits quickly go through the roof. The problem Marsh, her fellow agents and liaison cop Box (Billy Burke) have is that the technopsycho has rigged the site as to be untraceable.
Along with the logistic implausibilities, there’s the sort of predictability you expect from such plots. You know at some stage Marsh, her young daughter and mother (Mary Beth Hurt) are going to be endangered and that Griffin’s clearly got "next" stamped on his forehead.
Likewise, the screenplay feels a need to spell out the message by having Marsh’s obligatory obtuse boss warn that anyone who logs on to watch becomes part of the murder weapon, thereby instantly consigning the current victim to a swift demise.
But even so, it’s dark, tense, surprisingly intelligent and Lane gives a fiercely committed and ultimately kick ass performance. It won’t earn her any nominations, but it just might move her name higher up the list next time casting agents are looking for commanding screen presence and gutsy acting.
MARGOT AT THE WEDDING * * *
Cert 15, 92 mins
Turning the autobiographical spotlight on his dysfunctional self-absorbed parents and the impact their volatile relationship and emotional neglect had on himself and his young brother, Noah Baumbach’s The Squid And The Whale was arguably the best film of 2006.
All the more disappointing then that, despite top-notch performances from Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh, his equally well-crafted follow-up is such an emotionally empty and often rather dull affair.
Estranged for some years, Margot (Kidman), a successful New York-based novelist, is returning to the New England family home with adolescent son Claude (Zane Pais) for younger sister Pauline’s (Leigh) remarriage.
However, from the moment they arrive, she makes it perfectly clear she disapproves of the groom, failed musician and unemployed artist Malcolm, starts niggling at Pauline (whom she’s already informed Claude isn’t the full dinner service), airing long simmering resentments and deliberately spilling the beans about her sister’s secret pregnancy.
And if there’s no one else around at whom to direct her cold venom, she takes it out on her son; at one point cruelly informing him he has personal hygiene problems then, damage done, waving it away as inconsequential.
And, as Pauline rightly suspects, the wedding isn’t the real reason Margot’s come in the first place. Rather her agenda is to resume an old affair with smugly arrogant writer Dick (Ciaran Hinds) whose own Lolita-ish daughter also proves adept at stirring up a sexual hornet’s nest among the menfolk.
However, while his previous film subtly teased out the grown up character’s insecurities and emotional blocks, the writing makes it obvious that Margot’s behaviour is down to a severe case of self-loathing and bitter disappointment with her own life, all of which she appears to have taken out on her husband (John Turturro) and various family members for years.
Kidman plays it with unflinching perfect pitch, but she’s given such an unlikeable character it’s difficult to feel for her inner hurt and vulnerability. Save for Claude and his cousin Ingrid (Flora Cross), no one’s exactly sympathetic and you don’t much care for any of them.
Pauline’s a bit of an irritating whiny flake who knows what buttons to push to goad her sister’s bile, Dick’s a right bastard and Malcolm’s played by Jack Black who can’t seem to stop himself milking everything for laughs, even when he’s being given a kicking or wailing heartbrokenly into the phone.
Some have noted that, having previously channelled Woody Allen, this time Baumbach’s influence leans more towards Eric Rohmer.
Maybe, but it’s also hard not to see Margot as some Tennessee Williams creation and the love-hate sorority battleground as a rerun of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane.
It looks good and the compelling strength of the female leads earn it that third star, but otherwise this is an invitation that’s too easy to refuse.
THE ACCIDENTAL HUSBAND *
Cert 12A, 91 mins
If Uma Thurman’s agent really wants to do her a favour, he should shred any comedy screenplays before she gets a chance to read them. The Truth About Cats and Dogs? Prime? The Producers? My Super Ex-Girlfriend? Hasn’t anyone ever told her, she doesn’t do funny.
They certainly didn’t tell director Griffin Dunne who now finds his CV saddled with a real romcom stinker as, desperate for laughs, she embarrassingly mugs her stiff way through playing drunk, doing ditzy and falling down a lot in the hope someone will mistake it for hilarity. I’d rather watch Margaret Thatcher do stand-up.
In a plot that requires you to shut down any functioning braincells, Thurman is radio relationships guru Emma whose advice to one listener causes her to break off her forthcoming wedding to nice guy New York Irish fireman Patrick Sullivan (PS I Love You’s Ian McShane/Ivor Emmanuel cross Jeffrey Dean Morgan).
Looking to teach her a lesson about messing up the lives of people she doesn’t know, he lets his neighbour’s son (he lives above a curry shop run by a family of loveable eccentric Asians who exist only to provide an Indian party scene) hack into the public records and make them man and wife. Which she discovers when she and safe but dull publisher fiancé Richard (safe-but-dull Colin Firth) turn up to get their marriage licence.
Unaware he’s responsible, cue drawn out attempt to get Patrick to sign annulment papers during the course of which she’s drawn to his charming (sic) extrovert spontaneity and naturally starts wondering if uptight Richard’s the man she really needs after all.
Full of such ludicrous and staggeringly implausible plot turns as having Patrick pose as Richard in order to bond with a German businessman and stop him liquidating the company (a sequence that has a patently bored Isabella Rossellini looking like a refugee from Countess Dracula), it lumbers on oblivious to its excruciating awfulness like a wounded hippopotamus needing to be put out of its misery.
Since it ends precisely as you’d expect, you don’t really need to hang around once you’ve heard the solitary funny gag, thereby sparing yourself needless further agony and Firth, Morgan and, as Thurman’s dad, poor old Sam Shepard further public humiliation. Accidental? I’d hate to think you could make something this dreadful on purpose.