Saturday, March 16, 2019

Movie Reviews: King of Thieves

King of Thieves
directed by James Marsh
This film was based on a real life heist that I hadn't heard of before. It is a British film that makes absolutely no concessions to American audiences for the differences in accents, cadence, and slang. So the dialogue was occasionally difficult for me to follow. Most of the characters as well as the actors playing them are well into their seventies or eighties. One of the younger men in the group is said to have just turned sixty. These men have all the normal benefits of age- grandchildren and solicitous children or in-laws. 

However they also have all of the normal costs as well. Muscle has been replaced by flab. Sex is not really a motivating factor for most of the men any longer. Some of them have permanently lost the interest or ability. Others have diabetes or hearing problems or prostate problems or incontinence issues. Some are widowers. They fall asleep at inopportune times. None of them have the energy or drive that they used to have. 

Although the movie sometimes makes jokes at the mens' expense-one hapless fellow needs to relieve himself so badly that he uses the sink instead of the toilet-much to his friend's disgust- the film doesn't stay on this path. As becomes clear both by exposition as well as the actions of the thieves, these are hard men who've done some hard things in their lives. Some are killers. Some have killed cops. None of them are particularly trustworthy, grandfatherly appearing though they may be. Some are just mean. As their leader reminds them they should have too much pride to ever beg for mercy from the state.

Because the film decided to stick pretty closely to the broad outline of real life events there was not quite the level of violence which I had expected. There are some threats. It might have been a more exciting film had it decided to venture a little more into fiction and add some more events to the storyline. This film is crammed full of award winning talents. I thought the director and writer might have taken greater advantage of that.

Brian Reader (Michael Caine) is the former leader of a group of now geriatric gangsters and thieves. He's retired. There is one big score he wanted to do but he promised his wife that he was out. Brian keeps his word to his wife. 

But when she passes Brian is alone and bereft of purpose. Well he kept his word to the living. But marriage is until death do us depart. It's time for Brian to do that big job he always wanted to do. In no short time Brian has put together the old crew, muscleman Danny (Ray Winstone), paranoid, choleric, and psycho second-in-command Terry (Jim Broadbent), phlegmatic Kenny (Tom Courtenay), genially incompetent fence Billy The Fish (Michael Gambon), devoted family man Carl (Paul Whitehouse) , and lastly new guy and alarm expert Basil (Charlie Cox). They intend to rob the Hatton Garden Safety Deposit Repository. Brian has got it all planned out. There's a lot of cash, jewelry and expensive items in those boxes.  The haul will be worth millions!!! The only problem is a lot of those boxes are owned by even more dangerous people than our protagonists. So they really need to make their move, fence the stuff and head for the hills.

But in movies like this events rarely work out the way the heroes want them to work out. I liked that this movie took its time detailing the time, effort and planning that it takes to either successfully pull off a heist or to identify and build a case against those who do such things.  Even if you try not to do so there are just so many points throughout the day where you leave evidence of your presence and your communication with other people. Very few of us are ghosts, even criminals who have every reason to have a low key existence. There's little if any violence. There aren't strong female roles. In a nice little touch the film interpolates pictures of the actors in similar dramas from their younger days. Caine remains a top notch actor. Caine's Brian balances grief with excitement over the heist. He zooms back and forth between these emotions in a manner that can occasionally make the viewer queasy.  The film is not quite as large as the actors are. The second half of the movie has the thieves wondering who among them can be trusted and who needs to be either avoided or perhaps even eliminated. It's not really all for one and one for all.  

You will enjoy their banter. It ranges from the prosaic to the pathetic to the parlous, often all in one conversation. One minute someone is doing his buddy a favor by giving him an insulin injection so that he doesn't collapse into a diabetic coma. The next minute they're snarling at each other over old resentments and pains. They may be old with weary joints and dulled teeth. But they are still wolves.
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