FLOPS & ROB­BERS

A starry cast. The dra­matic Hat­ton Gar­den heist. But is this a jewel of a movie? Hardly...

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - MORE - MATTHEW BOND

King Of Thieves Cert: 15 1hr 48mins ★★★★★

King Of Thieves is co­pro­duced by those clever peo­ple at Work­ing Ti­tle, di­rected by James Marsh (who made the won­der­ful Stephen Hawk­ing biopic The Theory Of Ev­ery­thing) and, most pro­pi­tiously of all, stars those two giants of cin­ema – Michael Caine and Tom Courte­nay. And yet for all this cin­e­matic pedi­gree, it strug­gles – some­times se­ri­ously – to be any­thing more than work­man­like. To put it more bluntly, at times, it’s just not very good.

That’s partly a prob­lem of fa­mil­iar­ity. The in­fa­mous Hat­ton Gar­den bur­glary – when a team of age­ing ca­reer crooks broke into a London safe-de­posit vault over an Easter week­end and made off with tens, maybe hun­dreds, of mil­lions of pounds worth of cash, di­a­monds and gold – hap­pened in 2015. That’s hardly long enough ago to be for­got­ten, even with­out the var­i­ous film ver­sions that have come out at the rate of one a year ever since. King Of Thieves may be the star­ri­est of those, but it would also be nice if it was the last too.

Caine, de­spite be­ing al­most a decade older than his char­ac­ter, plays Brian Reader, a vil­lain with a long and vi­o­lent crim­i­nal record. But Reader’s get­ting old (he was 76), and had promised his dy­ing wife that he’d go straight. But when a young as­so­ciate (Char­lie Cox) re­veals that he has both a key and the alarm de­tails for a safe-de­posit build­ing in London’s jew­ellery district, he can’t re­sist. All Reader needs is a gang. ‘Hat­ton Gar­den?’ moans one of his age­ing re­cruits. ‘Too many stairs for me at my age.’

‘We can al­ways in­stall a stair lift,’ replies Reader, which isn’t quite up there with ‘You were only sup­posed to blow the bloody doors off’, but shows Caine can still de­liver a nice line. If only he had a few more.

Soon his group of ge­ri­atrics (an early al­ter­na­tive ti­tle was ap­par­ently The Over The Hill Mob) is as­sem­bled. There’s the volatile Terry (Jim Broad­bent), the funny

but short-tem­pered Danny (Ray Win­stone) and the al­lot­ment-lov­ing Carl (Paul White­house). The gang is com­pleted by Kenny (Courte­nay), who was 74 at the time of the rob­bery, re­lied on two hear­ing aids and was prone to fall­ing asleep.

It’s around now that the first cracks in the film start to show, with Marsh not sure whether he’s mak­ing a crime thriller or a comic ca­per, and pos­si­bly not very in­ter­ested in mak­ing ei­ther. The re­sult is de­cid­edly un­even and lack­ing in drama, with Courte­nay giv­ing a bum­bling per­for­mance that is outand-out com­edy, while Broad­bent tries to give us the chills. Only Win­stone, whose mere pres­ence makes com­par­isons with Jonathan Glazer’s more stylish Sexy Beast in­evitable, makes a de­cent stab at both. But it’s not enough. Ham­pered by our knowl­edge of the story – we all know how this tale of in­com­pe­tence ends – the re­sult feels strangely flat.

More dam­age is done when a wildly over­act­ing Michael Gam­bon ar­rives as Billy the Fish, an in­con­ti­nent and pos­si­bly de­ranged ‘fence’ with a part-time job at Billings­gate fish mar­ket. ‘It’s the deaf lead­ing the blind,’ ob­serves Danny in de­spair.

It’s tempt­ing to say some­thing sim­i­lar about the whole film, but that would be un­fair. True, it lacks a cre­ative vi­sion and re­lies far too heav­ily on a rather tired brand of com­edy. But I liked the flash­backs to the crim­i­nals’ glory days, which – with the grainy images of fast cars, long hair and swing­ing ‘birds’ – come across like lost episodes of The Sweeney. A few more of those and King Of Thieves might have had the heart it so badly lacks.

Joe Pen­hall’s screen­play is ap­par­ently based on two ar­ti­cles and, perhaps pre­dictably, it has a

‘Di­rec­tor Marsh isn’t sure whether he’s mak­ing a crime thriller or a comic ca­per’

rather thin feel to it. Two of the gang bow out early, while a third – the mys­te­ri­ous ‘Basil’, the only mem­ber of the gang not to be caught in the raid’s chaotic af­ter­math – slips away into the night with­out nearly enough in­trigue or drama. Last year’s ver­sion of the same story, The Hat­ton Gar­den Job – star­ring Matthew Goode and Larry Lamb – may not have been bril­liant, but at least it knew it had to take some dra­matic lib­er­ties to hold our in­ter­est.

This one doesn’t and, sadly, it’s us who pay the price.

THE OVER THE HILL MOB: From left, Ray Win­stone, Paul White­house, Michael Caine, Jim Broad­bent and Tom Courte­nay play the gang. Far right, Char­lie Cox with Caine

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