The first thing that strikes you about a film where Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent, Ray Winstone, Michael Gambon and Tom Courtenay play criminals staging one of the biggest robberies in UK history is why it didn’t get a lot more attention.
Unlike The Bank Job, a similar Jason Statham vehicle back in 2008, King of Thieves is out on VOD in the US with very little splash or fanfare following it’s theatrical release in the UK. One wonders if Netflix might have done it more justice, especially as it’s the next film from The Theory of Everything director James Marsh.
Caine, Broadbent, Winstone, Courtenay and Gambon are Brian, Terry, Danny, Kenny and Billy. As the film opens, we see Brian and his beloved wife Lynne (Francesca Annis) reminiscing about their life together and making vague reference to her going to hospital the next day for something neither one of them really want to acknowledge.
Days later, at Lynne’s funeral, Brian’s crew from years back are all assembled to help their friend say goodbye, but it doesn’t stop the chatter about a potential job at London’s Hatton Garden jewellery district where a vault houses a jaw-dropping cache of jewels, cash and more. Another young contemporary Brian’s used before, Basil (Charlie Cox) has a line on the job because he works in the building and has a key that might ultimately give them access to the room once they get past some other protections.
But the movie isn’t actually about the heist itself. After some cursory scenes of the guys poring over maps, rehearsing the crackerjack timing etc, the first half deals with the job hitting a hitch over the three-day weekend the crew has to execute it. Tempers fray, Brian and cohort Carl (Paul Whitehouse) ultimately walk out and mistrust and bitterness are put in motion that sets the stage for the fallout of the second half.
Where many movies about successful bank robberies deal with a tight knit crew and a sense of honour among thieves, Brian and his seventy-something friends are like a group of bitchy teenage girls – assuring the man in front of them they’re on the level and loyal, then conniving snidely about their duplicity as soon as they’re out of earshot. These men, despite knowing each other for decades, seem only too willing to double cross each other in the face of the haul that turns out to be worth potentially several hundred million – there’s even a barely veiled threat of murder at one point.
They also have no idea the filth are onto them; several very professional and dedicated detectives looking over video footage, identifying them as suspects, shadowing them to try and hear tidbits of evidence and all the while building their case and closing in.
It’s the third film based on the true-life case where four elderly, but experienced, robbers broke into a Hatton Garden safe deposit vault in 2015. It would be interesting to see the other two versions because this one is extremely hit and miss. Maybe that explains the release, the distributor realising they had a dud and dumping it.
First of all, it should be acknowledged that none of the problems are with the dialogue or performances. All the elder statesmen of English film and theatre on show here can do this kind of thing standing on their heads, and they still give it all they have. The profane dialogue crackles with energy and occasionally cracks you up as they bicker like men who’ve a) really known each other all their lives and b) really are professional robbers. It’s a particular pleasure seeing Jim Broadbent play a genuine bad guy and exude a sense of violent threat, a type of role we’ve never seen him in before.
The problems seem to be entirely with the structure and editing. Ideas and arcs are presented badly, not resolved properly and a mess while executed. Just one example is that after things go so bad between all these guys, you’d think they’d be slitting each other’s throats the next time they meet… but in the final scene, there they are good-naturedly arguing like all’s suddenly forgotten.
Another is the intimation that all the loot they’ve stolen belongs to dangerous people who’ll be only too happy to commit very dark acts to the men responsible. It seems to set up the mistrust that festers between the guys, their reactions actually fear about what might be coming, but it’s mentioned once and never enters into the plot again.
At times it’s not clear enough what’s going on and how everyone feels about it, so while individual scenes are masterclasses of performance and delivery, the whole thing is a mess that needed a few more passes in the script – maybe just a clearer idea of what kind of movie it wanted to be.
Let us know what you thought of King of Thieves in the comments.