Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: F. Gary Gray

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Seth Green, Jason Statham, Mos Def, Donald Sutherland

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence and some language)

Running Time: 1:44

Release Date: 5/30/03

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Review by Mark Dujsik

If The Italian Job seems familiar, it's not simply because it's a remake of a 1969 British caper flick. It mostly has to do with the fact that the film is a typical heist movie and follows the traditions that have been established by just about every other entry in the genre. What sets The Italian Job apart—or at least makes it a successful effort—is a sense of uncertainty during the film's splendidly crafted bookend robbery sequences. Placed in the middle of them, we have the usual goods: tough guys with characteristically appropriate nicknames and little to say, a beautiful woman who can take care of herself without any help, millions upon millions of dollars in gold bricks, conversations about the craft as character development, high-tech safes, low-rent guards, high-tech hacking, lowly, slimy villains, and European-style mini-coupes. The whole affair is held together by director F. Gary Gray, who manages to keep the in-between goings on likable enough to keep our interest until the big payoff. And it's a payoff much more than worth sticking around for.

A sextet of thieves has come to Venice to pull off the biggest heist of their careers. Veteran robber John Bridger (Donald Sutherland) has finally taken the backseat on this job—his last—handing principal control over to Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg). The rest of the crew includes Lyle (Seth Green), the resident hacker, Handsome Rob (Jason Statham), the getaway driver, and Left Ear (Mos Def), the demolitions expert. Watching on enviously in the background is Steve Frezelli (Edward Norton, who can play sleazy with the best of them), who seems to wish he got more credit. After the team escapes to the border of Austria with thirty-five-million dollars, Frezelli pulls a double cross, takes the money for himself, kills Bridger, and leaves the others for dead. One year later, Croker has discovered that Frezelli is living in Los Angeles and trying to sell off some of the bullion. The other wronged members of the original team are all for taking back the money, but Croker also enlists the help of expert safecracker Stella Bridger (Charlize Theron), who agrees to come aboard simply to see the look on the face of the man who killed her father when he realizes his money is gone.

The plan is to infiltrate Frezelli's luxurious home while he's away, crack a top-of-the-line safe, get it into the escape vehicle, and arrive at the airport. Things become complicated, of course, and this is when we begin to see how these characters' minds work. Can't get into the house? Cut his cable and disguise Stella as a repairperson; play to the male weakness for a pretty face. When he hits on her and she takes him up on a date, it gives the team a window for action—two birds with one stone. Can't get the gold to a car? Bring the cars to the gold. With the help of a master mechanic, a trio of mini-coupes goes through a major overhaul and become unstoppable load-carrying machines. Can't get through the hell that is L.A. traffic? Hack into the central control center of all the traffic lights in the city and create a huge traffic jam. Easy, right? The only problem is that, like all the best strategies, it means nothing once the enemy detects it. What follows from then on out is more like an impromptu battle of wits than a traditional theft.

It's at that point the film takes its material to the next level—not that what came before was in need of much improvement. The film starts with two heist sequences back-to-back. The first gives us a hint of what's to come more successfully later. After a creative plan that brings the safe to the thieves, there's a chase through the canals of Venice. It's one of those sequences you admire mostly because of location shooting. It works, but the one afterwards is slightly more intense. It has a van plummeting into icy waters as the occupants attempt to shelter themselves from bullets whizzing through the water and to share oxygen that's left over from the original job. It's much shorter but surprisingly more effective, although both of these are merely teasers for the climactic sequence. Instead of going into Frezelli's house, the crew needs to stop an armored truck and bring the safe to a secure enough place to get the gold. Frezelli has thought this out, which leads to a shell game of sorts with three armored trucks. The chase that follows travels down stairs, through subway tunnels, and into drainage ditches and implements the coupes, motorcycles, and a helicopter eventually flown by a man with nothing to lose.

It's the makings of a great chase, and Gray has the ability to turn it into one. It's really too bad The Italian Job only goes that extra mile in its finale, because if it had managed to find that level before then, we could have had a great caper film on our hands. Instead, we have an average but entertaining one topped off with an action centerpiece that has characters acting on instinct and playing by ear. It's invigorating, really, and gives us the sense that the best thieves, like great jazz musicians, exceed at their craft because of an intrinsic knack for improvisation.

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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