|Italian Job, The|
|Written by Mel Odom|
|Monday, 01 January 2007|
Although credited as a remake of the 1969 Michael Caine movie of the same name, “The Italian Job” is so original that it’s practically a remake in name only. The plot still centers around a heist by a professional band of thieves, but the action and emotions heat up with the addition of betrayal and revenge.
In the original film, Charlie Croker (Caine) was simply looking to make the heist of a lifetime. In the current version of “The Italian Job”, Croker (Mark Wahlberg) is taking over his “father’s” trade as a criminal mastermind. John Bridger (Donald Sutherland) comes out of retirement to perform the safecracking end of the heist. The few minutes of onscreen time that Wahlber and Sutherland have sets the tone as something more than a breaking-all-the-speed-limits, fist-in-your-face actioner, which it easily could have been. Director F. Gary Gray gets a lot of emotional mileage out of these small scenes, and they make for a much more interesting movie than one simply filled with stunts.
The theft in the beginning whets the viewer’s appetite for more story, more character, and more than a bit of comeuppance for the villain. We’re plunged into the story line with a skeletal, but emotional, sketch of the relationship between Bridger and his daughter Stella (Charlize Theron) and Bridger and Croker. Then things get really speeded up as we watch the team go into action in Venice to take out a safe filled with solid gold bricks owned by an Italian crime family.
Gray’s direction of the action on and below the Venetian water is top-notch. As revealed in the special features, the film crew got special permission to speed through the canals. Wake from the passing boats, the only means of transportation in the city, actually does damage to the foundations of the buildings, threatening to erode them and bring them down.
From there, the action moves to the Swiss Alps, though why they needed to go there or how they got there isn’t explained. The scenery is absolutely spellbinding and comes across looking like a picture postcard when rendered in high-def. The team is quickly betrayed and John Bridger is killed.
At this point, F. Gary Gray has his hook set. The audience knows that we’re looking at a revenge movie, but the script immediately kicks convention in the teeth by remeeting Stella, John Bridger’s daughter, as she’s attempting to break into a safe a year later. We’re swept into this story by emotion as well, wondering if Stella is going to have a turn of bad luck just as her dad did. Then, at the moment of her success, the lights flash on and the police step in.
In short order, we discover that Stella is actually using her powers for good by cracking safes that law enforcement personnel can’t get into. She bundles up her things and leaves. When the police officer asks her if she wants to see inside, she answers no, that she never peeks inside any safe that she cracks.
Back at her office, Charlie Croker is waiting on her. Croker tells her that they’ve finally found Steve, the man who murdered John Bridger and took all the gold they stole. He offers her a chance at revenge, and tells her that he needs her, that they don’t have a safecracker who can handle the safe that Steve is using. She turns him down at first, then calls him back and says that they will do it.
The next day, Croker introduces her to the rest of the team. Mos Def stars as Left Ear, the demolitions specialist of the team. Jason Statham plays Handsome Rob, the wheelman. Seth Green plays Lyle, the computer geek who supposedly created Napster. Later on, when Handsome Rob needs a hand converting the three mini-Coopers into escape cars, they pick up Wrench (Franky G.) The brief flashbacks of Left Ear, Handsome Rob, and Lyle are truly inspired, delivered out of context with the story but fitting right in with character and humor.
Mos Def started out in the music business, but has quickly carved out a career in film and television. He delivers an excellent performance here, mixing humor with outrage and throwing in some quiet, emotion-packed moments at the same time (such as when he and Croker are hanging suspended in a tunnel and he’s about to install the final fuse for a complicated series of explosions he’s orchestrating).
Seth Green plays geekiness to the hilt as Lyle, the gang’s computer systems expert. Techno-babble trips off his tongue like it’s nothing, and he instantly comes across as the kid brother of the rest of the group, always the one they’ll take care of, but always the one they’ll bust on.
Bursting with charisma, Jason Statham truly is Handsome Rob. Although the role called for someone Hollywood beautiful and not as full of swagger and machismo as Statham, after seeing him in the role for two minutes, you know no one will ever own that role the way that he does. Although the driving skills are on a par with the character Frank Black in “The Transporter” and “The Transporter 2”, Statham’s delivery of Handsome Rob is a world apart.
Donald Sutherland is always fun to watch. He’s a magician, working so slow and easy that you always miss the craftsmanship he brings to each role and mistakenly believe you’re just watching magic in the making. He makes the perfect gentleman thief in this bit, and you miss him when he’s gone.
As an actor, Edward Norton has an incredible range. He flip-flops from being villain to victim, from hero to near-do-well and back again so effortlessly you think he has to be a multiple personality case who’s making his disability work for him. He delivers a solid, smarmy yet incredibly dangerous performance as Steve, but there’s also just a hint of pathos about him as he desperately tries to keep himself from harm’s way.
Charlize Theron’s portrayal of Stella Bridger is complex. On one hand she comes across as a totally together person, but she never strays far from the daughter who lost the father she barely knew but loved with all her heart. The romance with Croker is understated, which it should be, or it would have caused the film to stumble at some point.
Mark Wahlberg is one of the best ensemble actors in the business. His portrayal of Charlie Croker is genuine and honest. Wahlberg is reputed to be one of the best contemporary actors to work with. Cast interviews scattered throughout the special features segments bear this out. Croker is soft-spoken, a guy who uses his brain and not guns, to solve his battles, and someone who cares about his team.
Even with the acting talent available for the movie, “The Italian Job” simply wouldn’t have worked as well without F. Gary Gray at the director’s helm. Given the state-of-the-art computer graphics available to him, Gray could have decided to use more CG effects than stay with what the actors and the hardware he was working with could do. Or be limited by sets or (in one case) shutting down L.A.’s downtown area for days on end. Instead, he chose to work within those limitations to present a more believable film to his audience. The stunt work, including the helicopter inside the building at the film’s climax, is all real, and all provided potentially hazardous working conditions for the cast and crew at best. The actors even insisted on performing as many of their own stunts, including the driving, as they could manage. But in the end, that dedication to reality in a working environment of make-believe makes “The Italian Job” an even better viewing experience.
The plot of the movie is simple to a degree. But the script and the director worked it for every angle they could manage, still popping up with surprises that will occasionally catch even the most jaded moviegoer flatfooted.
With this version, like with the original, though, some of the real stars of the movie are the Mini-Coopers (formerly the Morris Mini). There just isn’t another car like them on the road. Incredibly small and powerful, the minis jackrabbit into action and handle as adroitly as gazelles. Painted in the distinctive red, white, and dark blue, the minis capture your attention almost completely while they’re onscreen zipping around above ground and in the subway tunnels. They go through amazing stunts in both “Italian Jobs;” the former version put the small cars on the world map.
Video Presentation: “The Italian Job” is portrayed in vibrant color and sharp imagery. Flooded with images Gray captured of Venice, the Swiss Alps, and even the familiar terrain of Los Angeles, the movie draws you into those environments and you feel like you’re dodging around in the canals, trying to crack a safe underwater, freezing on the Alps, or are trying to escape gridlock on the L.A. streets. A movie like this is why you bought the Blu-Ray player.
Audio Presentation: Although the soundtrack is well separated and you can sit in the middle of the surround speakers and feel like you’re right in the middle of the action taking place on the screen, you have to wonder what the experience would have been like if the soundtrack and the rest of the audio had been uncompressed. It’s well done, but the sound you get on the Blu-Ray disc really isn’t any better than you’re getting if you’ve already got “The Italian Job” on standard DVD.
The special features section of the disc include a lot of information about the stunts and the driving, two of the most important ingredients in the film. But there’s also a lot about what it was like to work with each of the cast members and the director. The special effects department obviously had their work cut out for them, and it’s great to be able to take a look behind the scenes and see what was going on during the filming.
“The Italian Job” is a great buddy flick, and might even pass for a date movie since it’s not all chases and gunfights. And it might even serve as a family night watch as long as you pay attention to the PG-13 rating. The language isn’t bad, there is some graphic violence, and a couple gestures that earn the rating.
If you don’t already have “The Italian Job” in your personal DVD collection, the Blu-Ray addition is worth a few extra bucks for the video presentation. This is a movie that was made for high-def players. But if you already have it, wait to see if the studio comes out with one that has the audio portion uncompressed.
The studios might do another release when the sequel comes out. Pre-production has already begun on “The Brazilian Job,” and you can bet that the studio will totally release that one using the best high-def formats available. I’m looking forward to it.