|Italian Job, The (Special Collector's Edition) (2003)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 07 October 2003|
The original 1969 “The Italian Job” is considered by many to be a classic of the crime-caper genre, lighthearted subdivision. This reviewer is embarrassed to admit to having seen only the climax, which has a fantastic chase sequence – something the new version has a few of – and a literal cliffhanger ending, which is not the case here.
The 2003 version of “The Italian Job” – which will strike most viewers as a remake, despite protests to the contrary by the filmmakers in the supplemental material – works just fine on its own merits. In fact, it harkens back to 1969 not so much because it incorporates elements of its predecessor (Italian locations, mini-cars, etc.), but because it has that era’s breezy confidence in its own tone. Director F. Gary Gray and writers Donna Powers & Wayne Powers neither muck around with post-modern self-parody nor traffic in unearned grimness. Instead, they are proficiently funny, thrilling and suspenseful, sometimes by turns and sometimes simultaneously, as they provide us with a tale of the perfect robbery undermined by a messy aftermath.
Veteran thief John Bridger (Donald Sutherland) is happy to leave the planning of one last heist to his protégé Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg). Their crew for the theft of $30 million in gold bricks from a stronghold in Venice, Italy includes wily Steve (Edward Norton), computer genius Lyle (Seth Green), super-skilled driver Handsome Rob (Jason Statham) and demolition expert Left Ear (Mos Def). The robbery itself comes off exquisitely, complete with a speedboat chase through the famous canals, but when the gang makes a stop in the Italian Alps, one of their number turns out to be treacherous, greedy and mighty mean. When the survivors have time to regroup, Charlie organizes another outing, this one to retrieve the gold stolen from him and his remaining friends. He enlists one new reluctant ally, Stella (Charlize Theron), a security specialist who until now has been on the right side of the law but has powerful reasons for providing aid.
The schemes and counter-schemes have both narrative surprise and visual punch, keeping us continually entertained, and the agreeable characters are good company throughout. Green is particularly amusing as the audiophile techno-whiz who claims to have invented Napster, while Wahlberg, Statham and Def exude an easy camaraderie and an assurance that persuades us that their characters really do know what they’re doing. Theron is lovely and intelligent, though her role isn’t especially challenging.
The mini-cars, prominently featured in the action, come off as fairly ingenious elements, and we’re continually kept on our toes with a series of how-will-they-get-around-this-obstacle, wow-that’s-a-good-idea setpieces.
Sound is mostly excellent. The big explosion in Chapter 3 is so all-encompassing that for a moment, you may wonder if your floor is falling away underneath you to accompany the onscreen action. Chapter 4 has wonderful directional speedboat engines zooming from right main to left rear, as though the watercraft are streaking through your viewing environment, and Chapter 5 has an intriguing effect as ferociously punchy automatic weapon fire on dry land is intercut with the sound of the bullets traveling underwater as one character fires viciously into a lake. Chapter 7 has a fun mixture of funky soul source music and a big explosion in a flashback, though there’s a bit of optical bleed in the twinkling lights of a nighttime cityscape. Chapter 10 has some good, enveloping wrecking yard effects, with crane engines vibrating in the rears. Chapter 13 has fine directional vehicle sounds, though the electronic score seems just a bit scratchy on an effect that sounds like a drum brush. There’s a good sonic illusion of vertical as well as side to side movement as the minicars go up and down some surprisingly small spaces and an actually fun little directional brake squeal in the left rear to cap the sequence. Chapter 16 has great piledriver impact on a thrown punch, and those who sit all the way through the end credits will be rewarded by the pitch-perfect sound of a coin hitting the pavement.
Extras on the disc are decent, with an actual 5.1 mix (rather than the customary stereo), with cast and crew speaking in the center and music and effects low in the mains and rears. Sutherland is appealingly passionate about the virtues of having a director who is physically on set with the actors, rather than far away behind a video monitor. It’s nice to see the screenwriters interviewed at length, but a featurette on stunts is oddly talky – more visual detail on set-up and execution would have been welcome.
However, even though we aren’t shown as much behind-the-scenes as we might like, the film itself is a work of timeless craftsmanship in the service of contemporary pacing. “The Italian Job” is very good caper fun.