The Italian Job (2003) dir. F. Gary Gray
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton
With insurance, robbing a bank, a museum, or a train is usually a victimless felony. That’s why filmmakers have always been able to turn this crime into comedy - especially when it’s against a money-grubbing miser or a big faceless corporation. The 2003 “Italian Job” is a film that fits in nicely to the great history of the genre.
The only elements from the original version that remain are the title, a few of the character names and the cute “Mini-Coopers”. And that’s all they needed to keep. The rest is justifiably discarded to update its story. It all works marvelously in this solidly entertaining action romp.
The film opens with Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg) and his team of young, hip, good looking, funny and charming thieves in the middle of a heist. It’s Venice Italy, and their target is $34million worth of gold bars. A good heist sets the audience up with expectations and cleverly changes them so we can be as surprised as the victims when the thievery is executed. After exploding a hole through the floor beneath the safe, the team makes a getaway in a high-powered speedboat through the Venetian canals. It’s a wonderful on location sequence (a rare boat-chase!) Our expectations are subverted when we discover the gold is not in the boat but somewhere else. Afterwards, in the midst of the team’s celebration, the safecracker Steve (Ed Norton) double-crosses them and steals away the gold.
Cut to six months later, Charlie is still hell bent on revenge. He has tracked down Steve to Los Angeles and reassembles his team to steal back the gold. Without a safecracker, Charlie enlists the daughter of the team’s fallen patriarch, Stella Bridger (Charlize Theron) to join them. As customary with the genre the team painstakingly cases the job using high tech computers as well as good old fashioned cons and deception. Of course, Steve is a wily adversary and they do run into a few hiccups, but it all sets up the exciting Mini-Cooper chase sequence through the streets of L.A. – a clever scene worthy of the famous Turin traffic jam finale in the original film.
“The Italian Job” has much in common with “Ocean’s Eleven”. Mark Wahlberg is cool and charming like George Clooney, Jason Statham is handsome and smooth like Brad Pitt, Seth Green is the tech-wiz like Eddie Jemison etc. But “The Italian Job” never tries to trump the star-heavy hype-machine of Oceans. Instead they streamline their story and reduce their lead characters to a five resulting in a film unencumbered with the complex narrative that often plagued the Ocean’s films.
The film is also ridiculously implausible, specifically Lyle’s convenient high-powered laptop which, with a few buttons, can recreate the 3-D blueprints of a building, tap into and control the entire L.A. streetlight grid etc etc. In hindsight the team could have just hijacked a bank’s computer system and had $34million wired to their Swiss bank accounts. But as you’re watching the film you never once think of these holes because the visual and auditory entertainment is so much fun. And Charlize Theron looks so hot driving that Mini!
With the success of “The Italian Job” and the “Ocean’s movies” I’m surprised this hasn’t been turned into a franchise. But apparently a sequel is being filmed, called “The Brazilian Job”. The same filmmaking team is on board, so it should make for a fine sequel and perhaps more.
For fans of this and the “Ocean’s Films” – don’t forget to explore the origins of this genre. The 60’s had plenty of these action comedies. Check out the original “Italian Job”, “The Thomas Crown Affair” and the best of them all, “Topkapi”. Enjoy.