I was at a bit of a movie loose end this weekend—you know me, I could fly to the moon, cure cancer, and win the award for outstanding achievement in the field of excellence all in the space of one weekend, but if I didn’t see a movie, I’d go to work the next day feeling vaguely dissatisfied. At the same time, I was feeling bone idle and couldn’t be arsed to schlep down to the U. District or downtown to see the film that most interests me—A Mighty Wind
(even though I hear it blows). Fortunately, I hadn’t seen either of the movies playing at the Harvard Exit (that won’t last long—the folks at Landmark seem to like to keep films on Capitol Hill for at least three months), so this afternoon I went to see Neil Jordan’s The Good Thief
My response: Bloody good. I guess when it comes down to it, all heist movies are the same—a cunning plan, a flawed security system, a sympathetic crook with a nemesis who seems halfway sympathetic himself, a team of idiosyncrasy-heavy specialists summoned for the “job”—but this one also had fabulous acting, a sneakily cerebral subtext, and fascinating casting. I didn’t hate Ocean’s Eleven
when I saw it at the tail end of 2001—it struck me as a harmless enough bit of nonsense for a bunch of Hollywood faces who wanted to live out their rat pack fantasies—but The Good Thief
shows just how hollow that movie was, and how lazy it was to settle for a cast list rather than a set of characters.
So, as everyone says
, Nick Nolte’s a wreck, but it makes him perfect for the part of Bob Montagnet, the gallant “good thief” on what he hopes will be his last job. The scene where the pleasant policeman looks at photos of Bob/Nick as a handsome young man alongside his now-ruined face was shocking—Nolte’s been in a gradual slide for so long that it’s not the same “OHMIGOD” intake of breath that was heard in every theater in 1990 when Robert Redford showed off his saggy features in Havana
, but it was a pretty effective way to show his dissolution. Talk about verisimilitude. He’s also lost his speaking voice—although Nolte and the Polish twins were the only native English speakers in the movie, it wasn’t any easier to understand Nolte’s dialogue than it was the Georgian female lead’s or any of the other non-native-speaking actors. (The Polishes, who made Twin Falls, Idaho
in 1999, weren’t the only directors acting in this movie—the Russian security genius was played by Bosnian Emir Kusturica, who directed Black Cat, White Cat
, among other films.)
It wasn’t until the closing credits that I realized the film was more or less a remake of Jean-Pierre Melville’s Bob le flambeur
(which I haven't seen). That made a reader comment
on IMDB seem extraordinarily perspicacious, so I can’t resist repeating some of it here (be warned, though, it contains some potential spoilers):
This is a copy of a previous film. It is in fact all about copies: the paintings, the copy of Bob in Paulo, how he manipulates the idea that he will copy his past crimes, the copy of the vault in the Russian's warehouse, even the copy of the copies on its walls, the twins, the copy of Philip in Phillippa, the false copy of the plan planted in the snitch. Lots of copies, lots of similar references to repetition.
One last thing: I found it totally jarring to hear them talking about francs—even though the euro has been in use for only 16 months or so, the references to the old currency made the movie seem really dated.