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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Iíve been feeling a little blue lately. Iíve said this before, but 2007 was the single best year for movies since Iíve been reviewing them. The last four months of 2007 in particular were jam packed with one outstanding film after another. Then we hit 2008 and it was like the quality just dried up. Now, I know that January and February are traditionally poor months for new releases, but the 2008 crop seemed particularly bad. I mean, come on: Strange Wilderness, One Missed Call, Jumper? There have been a few pictures Iíve liked, none that Iíve wanted to rave about.

Thankfully, the first really good movie of 2008 is here, and itís The Bank Job.

Based on a true story, the film stars Jason Statham plays Terry Leather, a London car dealer who owes a heavy debt to some local thugs. Terry has a history of petty crimes, but heís trying to stay on the straight and narrow now that heís married and a father. One day, he is approached by Martine Love (Saffron Burrows), a local model and long-time acquaintance who tells him that a local bank is going to have its alarms turned off for one whole week while a new security system is installed. She suggests they break into the vault. Because heís in desperate need of cash, Terry agrees that this is a good idea. Together with his crew, they rent a storefront two spaces down the street, then dig a tunnel over to the bank, going under the store in the middle.

What Terry doesnít know (initially) is that one of the safe deposit boxes contains some very incriminating photos of high-ranking political officials, and that the person who told Martine about the bank is an MI5 agent charged with getting them back. This is to be done covertly, without local law enforcement catching wind of the robbery and thus giving MI5 a black eye. The operation is blown by an unexpected source, and by the end, the pictures are being pursued by MI5, local cops, a pornographer (David Suchet), and the black activist (Peter de Jersey) who initially contracted to have them taken.

Iím a sucker for a bank heist movie. Always have been. Whatís cool about The Bank Job is that itís low tech. So many of the modern day heist flicks (like the Oceanís movies) involve the characters battling high-tech systems, using computers, dodging lasers, and so on. Because itís set in 1971, The Bank Job simply involves people digging a tunnel. While Iíve enjoyed a lot of the more technologically advanced heist movies, itís definitely fun to see a more old-fashioned plan.

Hour 1 of the movie shows how Terry and his crew are drawn in and how they actually break into the bank. Itís all good stuff, but Hour 2 is where the story really shines. As all the various parties try to seize control of the incriminating pictures (and as some of those parties are willing to use deadly force to get them), Terry has to find a way to outsmart everyone. Thereís excitement in watching him do this, but I also enjoyed how director Roger Donaldson (No Way Out) takes the time to show all the different interested parties tripping each other up. Thatís where the suspense truly comes in. Everyone wants the pics for different reasons, and everyone has a unique way of trying to obtain them. Each time one element seems to have an advantage, another comes to undermine it.

Jason Statham is a fascinating actor. Heís got valuable charisma as one of the few actors whose macho persona seems genuine, as opposed to being an affectation. This makes him a welcome screen presence, yet all too often he makes cheesy, low-rent action movies like War, In the Name of the King, and the Transporter pictures. He deserves better, and this time he gets it. Statham reminds us that he can do more than sneer at the camera and execute some fight moves; he can also play an intelligent, sympathetic character. As someone whoís been disappointed by a lot of the manís projects, I can safely say that this is the Jason Statham movie Iíve been waiting for.

The Bank Job is smart, and itís exciting, and itís fun at the same time. Donaldson has given the film a fast pace that still allows plenty of time for character and plot development. The performances are solid all around, and yes, Statham does get one substantial fight scene to please his hardcore action fans. All in all, this is a very satisfying movie.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Bank Job is rated R for sexual content, nudity, violence and language. The running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.

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