In 1970, a set of compromising photographs were taken in the Caribbean, and by 1971 they were stored in a bank vault in London. The problem for the authorities was how to get their hands on them, especially as a black activist from Trinidad, Michael X (Peter De Jersey), was holding them as insurance that he would not be prosecuted for crimes in London, crimes he claimed were the white establishment's way of framing him. They were not, but to find a way of prosecuting him and getting their hands on the pictures they had to stage a bank robbery...
How true all of that, and all that follows, in this self-proclaimed "True Story" is open to question, but screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, here toning down the comedy they were best known for, were obviously quite taken with the mystery of what a group of actual bank robbers had gotten up to in the early seventies that resulted in a D notice handed down from on high, meaning that the facts of the case would not be revealed for almost a hundred years later. Therefore there was a strong element of speculation in the way this was set out, mixing what was public knowledge with a possible Royal scandal that probably never happened.
The compromising photos here are of a Royal, and it doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to work out who she's meant to be as they all but state her name in this, which should give you a clue that the case had little or nothing to do with her if there were restrictions on it. Still, it was a solid chronicle worth telling, or elaborating upon at any rate, and refreshing in that it was not your usual Jason Statham vehicle. Yes, for it was he, playing the leader of the bank robbers duped into it thanks to his own financial dire straits and the reappearance in his life of an old flame, Martine Love (Saffron Burrows), who herself has been set up by the powers that be to instigate the raid on that vault.
Statham's Terry Leather (I know the names had been changed, but couldn't they have come up with a better one for him than that?) assembles his gang with not exactly machine-like precision, as there's an unexpected nod towards this lot not being the greatest criminal masterminds of their generation, and almost one step away from bungling the whole operation. Rest easy, Statham fans, it's simply a technique for generating suspense and your man is still going to prove perfectly capable when push comes to shove, although the rest of his cohorts may not be as lucky. There is a rogue's gallery of characters to contend with here, from the lower levels to the highest echelons.
The implications being that the law was for the oblivious man in the street while those pulling the strings were getting up to all sorts without worry of ever being caught at it. That is, until incontrovertible evidence surfaces, and then they have to make their move; David Suchet puts in an insidious performance as a porn baron who has the number of many of the authorities, for example, and the film revels in such illegality and the dodgy geezers and occasional dodgy gals getting up to no good. If it were not for the tag of truth The Bank Job claimed for itself this would be one of countless heist movies, but that manner in which they dress this up with half truths and public figures does precisely what the filmmakers intended and adds a layer of intrigue and some of the paranoia of the classic era of the conspiracy thriller into the bargain. If it fails to convince completely, it remains a good yarn. Music by J. Peter Robinson.