I plead guilty to being a sucker for heist films. It’s such a reliable plot structure — we see the problem (usually an elaborate security system, as in Mission Impossible), we see how they plan to solve it, and then we see how they respond when things don’t go according to plan. I am happy to have my heart stolen as long the characters are charming and clever. They also have to meet at least one of the three key requirements for movie thieves: they have to be stealing for a good reason (How to Steal a Million), stealing from someone genuinely hateful (see The Sting), or — I’d better keep that last category a secret, to avoid spoiling the ending of some wonderful movies.*
This movie fits into the second category. It begins with the theft of $35 million in gold bars (not just tricky to steal, but almost impossible to transport). But then there is a second theft as one of the team double-crosses the others and, thinking he has killed them all, he takes the gold for himself. The rest of the movie is about how the team gets back the gold.
The team is led by Charlie (Mark Wahlberg), and includes genius tech whiz Lyle (Seth Green), genius demolition whiz Left Ear (Mos Def), genius getaway driver Handsome Rob (Jason Statham, essentially reprising his role from the underrated The Transporter), and the latest addition to the group, genius safecracker Stella (Charlize Theron), the daughter of Charlie’s great mentor — and genius safecracker John (Donald Sutherland). They want to get the gold back from colleague-turned-enemy Steve (Edward Norton), who killed John. Stella just wants revenge. And if a little romance enters into the picture, no one should be too surprised.
Charlie keeps telling Steve that he has no imagination, an unfortunate reminder that the movie, a remake of a Michael Caine caper film (also featuring both Noel Coward and Benny Hill!) doesn’t have much, either. But it has enough panache and charm to make it an enjoyable genre film. Def, Green, Statham, and Sutherland deliver their usual top-notch performances, even when the script gets formulaic. Norton, who reportedly was not happy about being contractually obligated to do the film, at least acts as if he was not happy about being contractually obligated to do the film. The film’s biggest waste of time is a running Napster joke that is two years out of date and tired the first time it is used, excruciating by the 10th. Apparently, they were stuck with it because of the appearance in the film of real-life Napter creator Shawn Fanning in the film, a joke maybe one percent of the audience will get and one tenth of one percent will care about.
Parents should know that the movie has a lot of tense scenes. Characters are shot and killed and there are implications of other painful murders. Characters punch someone as a way to satisfy feelings of betrayal and revenge. The main characters are all thieves, charming or not, and while they show loyalty and are committed to crime without violence, they are hardly role models. There is some strong language and characters drink alcohol.
Families who see this movie should talk about why we are able to identify with characters in a movie that in real life we probably would not want to cheer for. Why are these people theives? Will they stop?
Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy some of the other classics of the genre, including Topkapi, The Thomas Crown Affair, To Catch a Thief, The First Great Train Robbery and How to Steal a Million.
* Say, for example, The Lavender Hill Mob or Topkapi.