KING OF THIEVES

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: James Marsh

Stars: Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Ray Winstone, Charlie Cox, Michael Gambon, Paul Whitehouse, Francesca Annis.

King of Thieves (2018)

Heist dramas hold a certain fascination for audiences, from classics like The Italian Job, Ocean’s Eleven, Eleven Harrowhouse, Green Ice, through to Spike Lee’s thriller Inside Man, 2008’s The Bank Job, etc. The heist drama King Of Thieves is based on the true story of the audacious robbery of a Hatton Garden safe deposit bank by a gang of superannuated thieves during the long Easter weekend in April 2015. Hatton Garden is located in the centre of London’s diamond district. The thieves got away with a fortune in jewels and money estimated at somewhere between $50 million and $200 million. No one is sure of the final tally, but it is regarded as the biggest bank heist in Britain’s history.

The architect of the scheme was veteran thief Brian Reader (played here by Michael Caine), who was regarded as “the last of the gentleman thieves.” Recently widowed, Reader planned the robbery more out of boredom than greed. He had learned about a flaw in the security of the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company from Basil (Charlie Cox, from tv’s Daredevil, etc), a criminally minded electrician and alarm specialist who Brian looks upon as something of a surrogate son. Reader assembled a gang of aged crooks for this one final heist. The pensioner rat pack included the volatile Terry (Oscar winner Jim Broadbent), a former associate who had bad blood with Reader from an earlier encounter; the fusspot John (Tom Courtenay); Danny Jones (Ray Winstone); and “Billy the Fish” (Michael Gambon), who is disheveled, incontinent and senile.

The robbery is executed without a hitch, but then everything begins to fall apart. Loyalty amongst thieves goes out the window when Terry decides to cut Brian out of his share of the take. And then the group begins to be divided by paranoia, greed and suspicion and slowly turn on each other. And meanwhile the police begin to close in, using surveillance camera footage and high-tech methods to identify and track the crooks.

King Of Thieves has been inspired by One Last Job: The Inside Story Of The Hatton Garden Heist, Duncan Campbells’ non-fiction account of the robbery, and the Vanity Fair article How a ragtag gang of retirees pulled off the biggest jewel heist in British history, written by Mark Seal. The script has been written by Joe Penhall (The Road, etc) but it is a bit laboured and tonally inconsistent. The writers do draw some laughs from depicting the various eccentricities of the aged crooks though as they discuss their various maladies and failing bodily functions.

The director is James Marsh (The Theory Of Everything, etc), who hails from a background in documentary filmmaking (his Man On Wire won the Oscar). And while he brings a documentary like feel to the proceedings, his handling of the material is a little pedestrian and the film lacks any real sense of urgency. For some reason the police investigators are silent and there is precious little dialogue as they begin to assemble the evidence to catch the thieves.

Editors Jinx Godfrey (The Theory Of Everything, etc) and Nick Moore give the film a bouncy rhythm during the heist itself and the police investigation, but at other times the pacing is a bit slow and uneven. Benjamin Wallfische’s electro-jazz score also gives the material a buoyant feel. Cinematographer Danny Cohen (Brexit, etc) gives the film a slick visual style and an old-fashioned feel. However, King Of Thieves lacks that gritty edge of those classic 60s British crime thrillers like Peter Yates’ Robbery which it tries so hard to emulate. A nifty sequence near the end shows some black and white footage of the key actors from their cinematic heyday, which lends an authenticity to their persona as veteran crooks who have honed their craft across several decades. (There’s Caine from The Italian Job, Courtenay from Billy Liar, Winstone from Scum, etc.)

The best thing the film has going for it is the wonderful cast of veteran British thespians, who look as though they enjoyed themselves. Caine is always charming and watchable, even in bad movies, and he brings a touch of cool reserve to his performance. But his character goes missing for quite some time and his absence is felt. Broadbent is cast largely against type as the more violent and thuggish Terry, while Courtney hams it up as the fussy John. Winstone always has a volatile edge and here he taps into his darker nature. But they deserved a better script.

Trouble is though we’ve seen this geriatric crime caper thing done before, most recently with the genial Going In Style, which also featured Caine. King Of Thieves should have been a rousing crime caper, but it is ultimately a disappointing, formulaic and conventional piece of filmmaking.

★★★

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