Say what you will about Michael Caine, at eighty five he’s still plugging away. Even if nowadays people are giving him less to do, he’s still turning up when called. Steady hand on the tiller, and if the audience can overcome the accent then they follow that man anywhere. Or maybe that’s just the British.
It’s understandable that by this point in his career directors are mostly happy to throw him in to trade on his inimitable reputation. Take the 2017 Zach Braff joint Going in Style which casts him as a dude with a plan to carry out a bank heist that’ll set him up for the rest of his years. And now the 2018 James Marsh joint King of Thieves which casts him as an dude with a plan to carry out a jewellery store heist that’ll set him up for the rest of his years.
This one actually goes a little further down the nostalgia route. When reminiscing about the prior exploits the image literally cuts to the speeding minis of The Italian Job. Ray Winstone gets cuts from Alan Clarke’s Scum. Those are the two most immediately iconic, but all the cast gets them, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Paul Whitehouse (although his is a fairly anonymous shot of him pulling finger guns at a mirror, could it have been from The Fast Show?).
It’s pretty blatant, and unfortunate really that it flags its interest up so early on. This film doesn’t have to be a nostalgia piece, it works fairly even on its own. A dramatization of a real life job, it marvels in the fact that it could be pulled off at all – not least by this assortment of low-level, bickering, aging crooks.
It’s not a complicated affair. Somebody got hold of a key, knows how to knock out the alarms and the rest of gang just need to haul on in a big ass drill in order for them to bypass the safe door and drill direct through the wall to the treasures inside. The only thing standing between themselves and a job well done is their own ill-mannered belligerent incompetence. These aren’t nice noble thieves, they ain’t even your lawful neutral thieves. All complete bastards the lot of them.
And there’s something rather nice about seeing bad people tear each other apart and ultimately get what they deserve. It’s all schadenfreude. There’s no genuine joy to be had here, it’s unpleasant just about all the way through. Winstone turns up and you can at least be sure he’s a dick but no, not exclusively, but the end of the joint the mask has slipped off all their faces and they are revealed to be each as greedy and avaricious as each other.
The development is most distinct in Broadbent who swaggers in early with all his easy charm and slowly allows us to glimpse that his character is readily despicable. It really is sensitive work that they’re committing to. There’s a moment you can notice quite readily if you are primed for it, enough time spent around my older countrymen, when they finally feel comfortable enough around each other to start being openly racist and homophobic. A moment of audience reaction, ‘Oh, these are gross fuckers. Disgusting old men. I’m supposed to hate them.’
That realisation makes it much more enjoyable. Because this isn’t a film about the olds finally getting their own way. It’s about how their way is broken and diseased and will inevitably lead us all into ruin. The priorities of their generation are fundamentally screwed, and even if there were some good ideas in there they were inevitably executed so poorly that the entire plan was basically a bust from conception. Their instinctual selfishness and myopia dooming them all.
Basically it’s a whole movie of rage against the generation that have cost ours everything. Probably not really but personal interpretation being what it is I’d say that counts. It’s wonkily made, unstylish and drags a whole great deal around the middle. But as a method of catharsis, me exercising my demons against a broken model of society, tremendously edifying.
Do you think it’s an accident that the one remotely redeemable figure here finds his escape on a train to Europe? I don’t.
King of Thieves is currently screening in UK cinemas.