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Catch Bank job before its stolen away
Jason Statham is Terry, who heads up a bank heist to steal compromising photos of a member of the British royal family in "The Bank Job."

I joked a few weeks ago that I’d let you know if I found an unexpected gem among the lame spring movies.

Lo and behold, it has actually happened.

"The Bank Job" is based on the true story of a notorious robbery pulled off by a group of low level thieves in England in 1971. It was one of the most lucrative thefts in British history, but the story is really about the scandal and government corruption the heist exposed.

The whole affair was so embarrassing to the British government that they placed it on something called "D-notice" and the story was silenced for more than 30 years.

Luckily for us, that intriguing background makes for a juicy little crime caper.

A member of the royal family has been photographed in a compromising position, and British authorities want badly to recover the photos, which are stored in a bank safe deposit box, before they go public.

After fashion model Martine (Saffron Burrows) gets busted for trafficking heroine, intelligence agent Tim Everett (Richard Lintern) forces her to enlist some old friends to break into the bank and steal the photos.

Martine’s friend, Terry (Jason Statham), heads up the bank heist plot and is our main character. He assembles a team, they rent a business two doors down from the bank, then they tunnel until they reach the vault. It all goes well until they actually get their hands on the loot.

Turns out, the vault also holds incriminating photos of several politicians and law enforcement agents, a detailed financial ledger that would expose widespread police corruption and incredible amounts of money and jewels.

The movie focuses on story and character rather than action, which in this case is a good choice.

The first act does drag a bit as we watch the team being formed and the tunneling begin, but by the time the robbery itself is complete and we learn of the overwhelming hornets’ nest the robbers have stirred up, we hit full speed and don’t slow down until the credits roll.

"The Bank Job" is a taut crime yarn whose style is usually realistic but occasionally drifts into sensational pulp. It works best when it plays straight, yet even in its trashy moments it is thoroughly consuming. Besides, we can allow them some grace on the gratuitous nudity and clichéd film noir dialogue since the true story is more sordid than the film.

The story is rich and the characters sympathetic, and all the actors seem to understand that they don’t need to overdo it.

Statham has done his best in recent years to become an action movie star, but this is the type of film in which he thrives. He is absolutely believable as a working-class everyman who can handle himself in a fight. That makes it easy for us to identify with him, yet when the fists and feet start flying, his persona makes the action plausible.

The cast is superb across the board, particularly David Suchet as a porn peddler who becomes the scariest villain in the movie.

"The Bank Job" doesn’t display the art film touches of "Reservoir Dogs" or the dizzying style of "Snatch," but it is a riveting, unassuming chestnut of a film. It’s also the best movie to hit Gainesville screens so far in 2008, so catch it while you can.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.