Review: King of Thieves

Were it not based on a true story, this heist film would have likely been derided as just another excuse for providing employment to that cohort of British male actors who have pushed past 65. In that regard, it’s quite a coup: Michael Caine, Ray Winstone (only 60, actually), Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay. They play a contentious bunch of over-the-hill career criminals who come together to rob a safe deposit vault where scads of expensive jewelry are stored. It’s obvious that the “king” of the title refers to Caine’s character, Brian Reader, who has been out of prison for a number of years and happily married. When his wife dies suddenly, a shady relative of hers, Basil (Charlie Cox), shows up at the funeral and makes him an offer he isn’t likely to refuse. Basil is a safecracker who knows the IT contractor of the bank where the jewels are stored, and he says he can get Brian into the vault. At first, Brian, who promised his wife he would never go back to crime, refuses, but at 77 he doesn’t have much to look forward to and eventually his resistance wears down in the face of Basil’s continuing entreaties. Brian quickly puts together a team of old criminal acquaintances, some of whom are still in the game and others who long to be back in it. It’s a heist movie cliche that director James Marsh initially gets right.

However, he’s less successful with the inevitable corollary to that cliche—that too many cooks spoil the broth. The thematic kernel of the true story was that, given the complexity of the caper, the thieves assumed that the police would assume that the culprits were younger and more financially resourceful, but, actually, it seems the cops caught on pretty quickly and only because the group couldn’t hold it together as a group. Much of the first half of the story involves Brian’s plan, which is, frankly, quite brilliant. But when it goes wrong in the initial stage he bolts the enterprise, leaving it to the rest of the crew to finish it, which they do, successfully. Difficulties arise when they have to fence the jewels through Billy (Gambon), who has a drinking problem. In any case, once the seed of doubt is sown, everything falls apart, and even Brian, who is no longer technically involved (but wants his share due to the fact that he owns the rights to the plan), gets fingered. 

One’s enjoyment of King of Thieves greatly depends on how much you like watching old actors take the piss, because there are some really hardboiled set pieces involving our heroes spitting f-bombs at one another in a fever of rapturous proportions. Winstone, of course, is the master of this kind of thing, but Courtenay, in the end, steals the movie with his self-pitying malevolence. But the script never quite fulfills the ad campaign’s promise to deliver the story of a robbery that reportedly shocked the UK with its ingeniousness, meandering along as if the scriptwriters themselves were suffering from iron-poor blood. 

Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Chanter Hibiya (050-6868-5001).

King of Thieves home page in Japanese.

photo (c) 2018 Studiocanal S.A.S.

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