The Italian Job

Italian Job movie still

Director: F Gary Gray
Screenwriter: Donna & Wayne Powers
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Donald Sutherland, Charlize Theron, Seth Green, Mos Def, Jason Statham, Edward Norton
Release details: Paramount, USA 2003, 110mins
Full details: IMDb / view trailer (Quicktime)
Genre: Action
Rating: 7 out of 10

The original Italian Job (1969) is probably my favourite film of all time and not just because it stars Michael Caine. It's a bright, brash and breezy little movie with the most inventive car chase ever committed to celluloid. It is also, I will admit, very much a British film.

The current Mr Bridger, Donald Sutherland describes it as a "one-joke movie" but, much as I adore his work, he's a Canadian and you can't really love The Italian Job unless you're British. Or possibly Mike Myers. You need to understand the mentality of this small island race, and our complex relationship with our nearby continental neighbours, to truly appreciate the slightly jingioistic cheekiness of the piece.

Like many fans of the original, my heart initially sank when a remake was mooted yet again. And Mark Wahlberg - so pretty, but not blessed with the comic sensibilities needed for a comedy-heist movie - as Charlie Croker sounded like sacrilege. (Although, after Stallone as Carter, I'm sure Caine fans can survive anything.)

But, unlike Planet of the Apes and The Truth About Charlie, this is not a remake. What The Italian Job does is keep the names of the two main characters - Croker and Bridger - and the idea of a group of Minis escaping through a traffic jam and head off in a different direction. This is not a comedy-heist movie, it's a straight action-revenge thriller, with its heist elents having more in common with Mission: Impossible than anything involving Michael Caine blowing the bloody doors off.

The newer, meaner Italian Job opens in Venice, where Charlie Croker (Wahlberg) and his gang are executing the heist of a couple of hundred million in gold. As an action sequence, it would fit comfortably into any James Bond movie, with a pleasing mix of gadgets and old-style skills, as well as a truly thrilling speed boat chase through the canals. It also manages to introduce us to the main gang members - Charlie, Left Ear (Mos Def), Handsome Rob (Statham), John Bridger (Sutherland), Lyle (Green) and Steve (Norton) - and establish their characters without the need for clunky exposition.

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As every trailer for the movie shows, Steve double crosses his friends, shoots John Bridger in the head and makes off with the money. The remaining gang members then split up, but are reunited a year later when Charlie brings them together to exact revenge on Steve and get the money back. The only problem is that they need the help of Stella Bridger (Theron), John's daughter, who is the best safecracker around, but chooses to use those skills legally as a technical consultant to law enforcement agencies and security companies. She also blames Charlie for her father's death.

It's a standard action movie plot, so you can all guess what happens next. The gang plan - and execute - their revenge on Steve in grand fashion, with Minis driving through houses, train stations and storm drains. Director Gray was keen that the cast do as much of their own driving as possible and this has limited the levels of inventiveness and orginality that can be put into the stunts, although there are some fresh touches that you won't have seen before.

Compared to the original, it's a little disappointing. On the other hand, it's still one of the better car sequences in recent years and it does highlight that Theron, in particular, is a pretty good driver. Statham, too. And the Minis look gorgeous, which is surely the whole point anyway.

Performance-wise, all the best work comes from two of my own favourite supporting actors, Seth Green and Donald Sutherland, although there's a pleasing interplay between the gang members which is reminiscent of the recent remake of Ocean's 11. It's just a pity that Theron and Wahlberg don't have a similar sort of chemistry to that of Clooney and Roberts.

But though they may be a little bland as a lead couple, they don't compare to the weakness of the villian. Ed Norton, who likes to think of himself as a serious actor, didn't want to do this film. He signed a three-picture deal with Paramount right before Primal Fear and, having been made a star by that film, decided that he was too good for generic multiplex fodder and didn't fulfil his end of the bargain. Paramount have finally been able to force their point and he was legally obliged to do The Italian Job. He doesn't want to be there and it shows. On the bright side, they made him look really stupid in that terrible moustache.

In the end, The Italian Job is a better than average action movie because of the two well-worked set pieces - the opening heist in Venice and the very beautiful Mini Coopers on the streets of LA - and a genuine feeling of fun. It's a movie that doesn't take itself too seriously, which is good advice for Ed Norton.

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Special Edition DVD featuring both the 1969 and 2003 versions:


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