Monday, June 29, 2009

Monday Movie Two-fer: The Italian Job (1969) and (2003)

The Italian Job (1969) 6/10
Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) is a thief just out of jail. His former partner has a big heist planned, but is murdered before he can meet with Charlie. With his late partner's plans, Charlie puts together a complex gold heist in Italy.

There's a lot of fun ideas here, although the whole thing is kind of thin. Probably the biggest delight, other than the famous Mini-Coopers, is Noel Coward as Mr. Bridger. Bridger is a crook of such power and influence, that he happily stays in jail because he runs the place; every prisoner and every guard does his bidding. Charlie needs Bridger's help with financing, and it's charming and silly to see the prisoners acting, not like they're in jail, but like they have an alternate lifestyle/cult with Bridger as their charismatic leader.

Michael Caine does his best with a thinly-written character. We know little about Charlie except that he's a ladies man and a crook, and that he's in charge of an enormously complex scheme. I suspect that the character work that Caine does wasn't really scripted, but something that he found between the lines. Unfortunately, what he found was a bitchy and unpleasant guy; anxious about details and constantly rude out of nervousness. I found a lot of my natural pleasure in watching a heist drained away.

The overall purpose of the plan, what gets Bridger on board, is to bring down the Italian lira out of English national pride. Not very exciting to an American 40 years later. In addition, a lot of the planning involves talking people into things. Not enough action and not enough fun, despite the movie's fame.

The Italian Job (2003) 7/10
Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg) pulls off a gold heist in Italy with the help of his mentor, John Bridger (Donald Sutherland). But one of the crew is a traitor who murders Bridger, leaves the rest for dead, and keeps the gold for himself. A year later, Charlie gets the gang back together, and persuades Bridger's daughter (Charlize Theron) to help them rob the gold back.

Mark Wahlberg is no Michael Caine. Let's just accept that and move on. This movie corrects a lot of the flaws of the original: The murder at the beginning is integral and motivating instead of an aside. The revenge plot is more engaging than economics. The characters are in general more likable. The only woman is there for something other than sex.

There's a good sense of humor here. Jason Statham and Seth Green are definitely fun, although the whole thing doesn't have that sense of play that the original had.

Still, it works better, it's a smart heist (two, actually) without too many stupidities, and it's entertaining from beginning to end. I ended up surprised at several points, not sure how things would play out. Which is so important in a heist film. I also really enjoyed that the get-things-by-being-sexy character was male—Handsome Rob, played by Statham. Usually when there's a token woman in the gang she's the designated seducer, but Theron is cool and collected as Stella Bridger, an expert in safes and locks who normally stays on the right side of the law.

The budding romance fumbled towards by Whalberg and Theron is a waste of time, but very little time is spent on it, so that's okay.

(The Italian Cross-post)