FILM REVIEW – KING OF THIEVES. With Michael Caine, Charlie Cox, Michael Gambon, Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent. Written by Joe Penhall. Directed by James Marsh. Rated R for language throughout. 108 minutes.
One goes into a heist movie knowing the elements of the genre: there’s the mastermind who plans the heist, the gathering of the gang members, the actual pulling off of the crime, and then the inevitable betrayals as it falls apart. There are variations, with KING OF THIEVES going with the one where nearly all the conspirators are old-timers. What makes this of interest is the cast, which is filled with familiar faces even if you can’t name them all.
Michael Caine, still a commanding presence at 85, stars as Brian Reader, who appears to be returning to a life of crime after the death of his wife. The robbery he plans – and it actually happened – involves getting into a bank vault and emptying the safety deposit boxes of a fortune in gems and cash. Except for young Basil (Charlie Cox), the gang members would not be out of place in a retirement community.
Two of them are notable for casting the actors against type. Michael Gambon, whose roles are more often authority figures (as in the “Harry Potter” movies), plays Billy “The Fish” Lincoln, a genial codger who is apt to doze off in the middle of things. It’s the sort of role that is closer to some of the parts Jim Broadbent has had but here he’s Terry Perkins, a nasty thug whose greed for more than his share of the take disrupts the operation. In addition, veteran actor Tom Courtenay and the comparatively younger (at 61) Ray Winstone are also on hand.
It’s such a pleasure watching this cast working together that it’s unfortunate that they’re not given more to do. The film cleverly hints at the backstories for the men by showing brief clips of the actors earlier in their respective careers (like Soderbergh did with Terence Stamp in “The Limey”). What would have been useful is actually learning more about them so that the audience could understand their individual motivations beyond simply wanting the loot and being at seeming dead ends in their lives. What we do get is their dealing with the infirmities of old age, as well their being out of touch with modern technology. It turns out brute force is no match for state-of-the-art electronics.
As an example of the British crime film, “King Of Thieves” may not break new ground but it does provide a showcase for its stellar cast.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Father of the Bride of Frankenstein, is now available. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.