The Bank Job is based on a true bank robbery occurring in England in the 1970's that was covered up by the British government, due to the involvement of some sensitive information regarding the Royal Family. (How the filmmakers got their hands on the information behind the cover-up is anyone's guess.) Starring Jason Statham as the heist's ringleader, Terry Leather, The Bank Job is a decidedly different type of heist movie than the usual light-hearted crime capers such as The Italian Job and the Ocean's series, a difference that is one of the films best assets but one of its biggest drawbacks as well.
Unlike the aforementioned "capers", no one in The Bank Job is a professional thief. There is no demolitions expert, no tech wizard, no "grease man", none of the criminal "stereotypes" one has almost come to expect in heist movies. There are no exotic locales, and no one talks about pulling a "Baker's Dozen" or a "Crazy Larry". There's just a vault and six crooks who want to get inside it. Alright, there's a bit more to it, but I'll get to all that later.
What The Bank Job has going for it the most is that it all feels very real (which isn't surprising considering it's based on a true story). What I mean by that is if my friends and I wanted to break into a bank vault (and believe me, since seeing this movie, I've been looking into it), it would feel a lot like this. No fancy gadgets or bait-and-switch-type distractions, just a bunch of average Joes tunneling into a bank and depending on a lot of luck. All the characters felt very real, like someone I could meet walking to class or at a bar, and unlike Danny Ocean, who you end up cheering for because he's just that charming, I was cheering for Terry Leather because I could see myself in his shoes: trying to provide for his family while a couple of loan sharks are breathing down his neck. Okay, I can't really identify with the loan sharks thing, but you get my point. I cared about these characters because I wanted to, not because I had to.
But The Bank Job's adherence to realism helped me realize something about movies. Prior to this film, I would always decry any film based on a book or a true story that would stray from the path of "how it actually happened"; I would label any liberties taken with the story as bastardization and denounce the filmmaker as an unconscionable asshole who had sacrificed the original author's vision or the experiences of those involved for the sake of what would make a more commercially successful movie. But the truth rarely translates well to a movie--after all, isn't that why we go to the movies in the first place: to escape what's real and immerse ourselves in the fiction on the screen? Yes, The Bank Job was very real and tugged at my heartstrings a bit, but the plot felt rather ragged at times and occasionally left me quite confused. Ocean's Eleven might be a bit too slick, but The Bank Job wasn't slick enough. I wanted to leave the theatre going "Oh my God! That was so cool!", but instead I was still trying to figure out what exactly had just happened. True, I did that coming out of Ocean's Eleven, but at least there the filmmakers were trying to keep us fooled until the end. The Bank Job fooled me by accident, with subplots involving porn kings, corrupt cops and militant Black radicals.
Despite everything, however, I have to give The Bank Job an overall positive review. It tried to do something different with the heist genre, and though the result was a bit of a clunker, I was emotionally invested in the movie from start to finish, something I can't say about Ocean's Eleven.