If "The Bank Job" were fiction, it would be a fairly decent robbery caper. As it is, "The Bank Job," a veritable documentary and realistic whodunit, is awesome.
Unlike most films, this one requires a couple of advance tips: First, watch it with the improbable idea in mind that most of it is actual, hard-to-believe truth; second, don't be impatient. As the story of a 1971 bank robbery begins, the setting in London, the parade of seemingly unconnected stories and characters is rather confusing, complex, disjointed. But stay with it - there is a crescendo of excitement and excellence.
The true elements of "The Bank Job," some hidden until recently by Britain's "D Notice" censorship law (modified in 1993, becoming DA, or Defense Advisory) are these:
1. A big bank robbery did take place on Baker Street in 1971, culprits never found, money never recovered. After initial big headlines, the story disappeared from the newspapers.
2. There was serious police corruption in London in the 1970s, cops on payrolls of drug dealers and pornographers.
3. Princess Margaret was involved in a series of affairs, some caught on compromising photos which were not published by the otherwise relentlessly sensational British press, under the D-Notice rule.
4. There was a militant British black-power advocate, called Michael X, involved in a one-man, multi-country crime wave. (In 1971, John Lennon paid for Michael X's bail, something not mentioned in the film.)
"The Bank Job" director Roger Donaldson (of "No Way Out") brings together all these true threads in a way that may be true even in its totality, director and cast prevailing over some shoddy work from too many writers.
The content is all true, the context is excitingly possible. Did the government, in trying to prevent exposure of Princess Margaret by evidence in Michael X's possession, mastermind the bank robbery? Was MI-5 or MI-6 (says a policeman in the film: "I never remember which is which") involved, and actually assisting the robbers? Again, possibly.
The cast is remarkable: Jason Statham is the ringleader, the bad guy of "Transporter" and "The Italian Job" turning into a scourge of the really bad guys. Saffron Burrows, James Spader's vamp nemesis on "Boston Legal," brings her remarkable name and looks to the criminally and emotionally ambiguous major female role.
Peter De Jersey is a totally scary Michael X; David ("Poirot") Suchet is a frightening crime lord; and a whole host of top British stage actors fill in big roles and small ones. Don't be misled by reviews speaking of a so-so thriller - "The Bank Job" is a great deal more than that, even to the point that you may want to see it more than once.