Directed by: James Marsh
Cast: Michael Caine, Paul Whitehouse, Ray Winstone, Tom Courtenay, Jim Broadbent, Charlie Cox, Michael Gambon
Written by Cameron Frew
Geriatric Lock Stock.
The Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Box Robbery (there’s a mouthful) is an absolutely incredible story, the kind of tale in today’s age you’d expect to have taken place back in the old days. But, it was in 2015 when a group of rowdy old geezers took the world by storm, carrying off what’s been dubbed ‘the largest robbery in British history’, stealing money and jewellery estimated to be worth over £200 million. Quite adequate footing for a feature film adaptation, that’s for sure. Who better to cast than Michael Caine as the group’s charming yet nefarious leader, Brian Reader, too? There’s a lot of fantastic workers behind the project; the director, James Marsh, has shown his competence in the brilliant Theory of Everything and the vastly underrated, real-life heist-of-sorts documentary, Man On Wire. The cinematographer, Danny Cohen, honed his visual glimmer on Les Miserables and IT. But, as you watch King Of Thieves, you realise that, albeit the film is thoroughly competent, it needed a touch of the Guy Ritchie charm a good British heist flick needs.
Caine’s introduction is an emotional leg sweep – we watch as he enjoys an evening out with his wife (with whom he has almost no chemistry, but whatever), with the subtext being that she is heading to hospital the next day. He implores her to have a glass of wine, “for old times’ sake”, but she politely declines. They stroll along the riverside, reminiscing about their relationship, Caine cheekily saying “that creme brûlée was like losing my virginity”. But, the night turns fatal, as she excuses herself to go to the bathroom, gently stumbling as she goes. Caine’s Reader sits solemnly with a nervous blink, and the combination of all the filmmaking elements in this one, moving little moment make for a fittingly motivating starter-for-10.
Then comes the beginning of the abrupt tonal shifts, which veer from crude, un-PC banter, to dross, boring conversations, to total sadness, often undercut with this obnoxious insistence on hip, nostalgic clips. There’s one moment towards the film’s climax this is used well, but as for the rest, it’s often very jarring and hastily edited. You can understand what they were going for as well – contrasting the shifty, elderly leads and their slow-moving robbery with the lavish, rapid, young style you’d expect in say, The Italian Job, in theory creates quite a pleasing effect, lending more weight to the gravity of how the hell these old men pulled off such a stunt. But you know when you feel the need to explain something, the execution hasn’t been entirely successful.
Alongside Caine is a randy group of ‘pensioners’, featuring the likes of Paul Whitehouse, Michael Gambon and Tom Courtenay (who puts in a tiresome shift as a poorly written snake whose only function is to supply an endless stream of double crosses). There’s also Ray Winstone, who could have been let off the leash a bit more in terms of the supposed craziness his character is famed for; there’s a little glimpse of it in his introduction with a slimy banker, but not much else. Charlie Cox is the token young man, which is a shame because in terms of the real-life story, the character he plays should be the enigmatic, captivating source of all intrigue. But his performance is extremely odd; distant but not so far off all-togetherness that you’d write him off. He never looks people in the eyes, and has a nervous puppy quality (which does make him a target for his elderly compadres later on). Comparably, his work in Daredevilis so much stronger, making this effort inexcusable.
The highlight of the piece is, without a doubt, Jim Broadbent. Not just because you get a glimpse of his peachy arse, but he’s on deliciously despicable form as the relentlessly evil and plain nasty Terry Perkins, a man forever stuck in the shadow of the superior and more naturally commanding Brian. There is a certain novelty to listening to a group of old guys exercising their potty mouths, dropping C-bombs here, there and everywhere, but only Broadbent manages to retain the amusement, and often dread in hearing it. Lines such as “I’ll cut your balls off” and “I’ll do whatever I like to you son, and you’ll enjoy it” are so hilariously out there and funnily enough, all delivered to Cox.
As for the narrative, the first half has a solid momentum to it. You know where you’re headed, so you’re on board for all the necessary, clichéd introductions to the team and the set up for the central heist. This is where the film excels more (other than the incessant quick cuts of Hatton Garden street signs as if no-one is actually paying attention). Yes there’s tropes you expect, but that’s why the heist movie, as a genre, is so popular – there’s always a thrill to seeing a plan coming together. The scoping out of the place is smugly underplayed, as Cox walks Caine through a less-than-complex technical system to get in. While the film does take great efforts to show that despite their miraculous theft, they’re very much men out of time, struggling to fit in with today’s expectancies and shifting standards (both socially and technologically, as some shoehorned gags imply). The stakes simply aren’t raised enough though – Marsh and writer Joe Penhall (whose work on The Road doesn’t exactly indicate the right fit for this type of feature) make it all seem so easy, which may have been the point. But this is where a fresh, vibrant directorial style could elevate it to something more. Look at Snatch, or Lock Stock– their tales of criminal woe are fairly standard, but the writing is biting and bold, and there’s a jazziness to each of them. But as the plot moves past the heist and into the aftermath, there’s too many tangled tones and ideas, overbearing big-band music (from Benjamin Wallfisch, no less), and just a general sense of the whole thing being nothing other than ‘okay’.
An old-fashioned heist flick with a still-game cast that tries to salvage its dullness through tediously expletive dialogue, sorely missing the brass neck of more fun, self-aware romps.