Starring: Michael Caine, Tom Courtenay, Jim Broadbent, Ray Winstone
Directed By: James Marsh
Running Time: 108 Minutes
UK Release Date: 14 September 2018
BBFC Certificate: 15
Director James Marsh certainly likes bringing stories based on real life events to the big screen. Following The Theory of Everything (2014) and The Mercy (2018), he brings us the heist caper King of Thieves, which is based on the infamous Hatton Garden safe deposit burglary back in 2015. That crime was already the subject of last year’s The Hatton Garden Job, starring Matthew Goode and Larry Lamb, but not it’s getting the Michael Caine treatment.
As with all films based on true stories liberties are taken with the source material in order to translate it to the audience as a piece of entertainment rather than a documentary, and unlike Marsh’s previous film, The Mercy, King of Thieves is a more humorous and light hearted affair.
The film follows recently widowed Brian Reader (Caine), who recruits a team of retired crooks to break into the supposedly impregnable Hatton Garden safe over the Easter weekend, and escape with over £200 million worth of jewels and cash. However, after the heist there is little honour amongst these thieves as paranoia and greed get the best of them, until their ultimate arrest.
There will be comparisons to other heist films with great ensemble casts, but Oceans 11(2001), Snatch (2000) or The Italian Job (1969), this is not. It isn’t a glitzy or glamorous fantasy heist where the robbers have good intentions and are stealing off crooks, and this also isn’t a down and out social realistic film about poor old men who need the money. It’s a film about old-timers who still feel young inside, living in the modern world with little to lose and the skills and experience to pull this off. But they are mainly doing this for the thrill and riches, and for most this is the last big steal.
Stating the obvious, the main cast is amazing and full of legendry British actors. We have Caine on fine form as the ‘leader’ of the gang. He gives a top performance, complete with his trademark broken tone and wobbly lower jaw. There’s also Jim Broadbent playing a more aggressive character than I have seen him before as Terry Perkins. Tom Courtenay provides some light relief as John Kenny Collins, as well as Ray Winstone playing Ray Winstone, I mean Danny Jones.
Charlie Cox (best known from Netflix’s Daredevil) plays the youngster of the group, ‘Basil’, who approaches Reader with the job, and has to contend with the ongoing reality of the situation and the egos of seasoned crooks. In less prominent roles we have Paul Whitehouse as Carl Wood and Michael Gambon’s comical portrayal of Billy ‘The Fish’ Lincoln, both of whom bring more comic relief to the overall film.
They all give naturalistic performances but to be fair the majority have played similar roles through their vast careers, and are the obvious choices for aging British geezers. I saw real life parallels between the more senior actors and their characters, as they are all men in their twilight years after the thrill of one last job.
In other hands this story would be another gritty and violent, straight-to-DVD British robbery film featuring Danny Dyer, but in the hands of Marsh and his team we have a well-paced, often witty and kinetic heist film with an fairly light-hearted tone. It harkens back to the British robbery films of the 60’s and 70’s with its constant use of fast tempo jazz music, but it very much feels like a modern and realistic film without over the top characters.
Unfortunately, the film falters during its last act as there is too much focus on the paranoia between the crooks, whose greed is their downfall. It doesn’t descend into total grimness as there are many humorous moments, but there certainly isn’t honour amongst these thieves.
After the heist the police get involved, but little time is spent fleshing them out and they barely have any dialogue between them. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it would shift more of the focus from the gang of robbers, as we fully expect what the outcome will be.
Overall this is a good caper, but if it edited out the swearing and drug reference it could easily pass for a PG or 12A and reach a wider audience. That being said I imagine the majority of people wishing to see this film are over 18 anyway, and are enticed by its terrific cast of icons.
Overall Verdict: Overall King of Thieves is a fun and kinetic heist movie with some great performances, but it descends into paranoia and some of its inconsistencies become more prominent. Not as bold as it wants to be but it’s entertaining throughout and intentionally harks back to the British heist movies of yesteryear.
Reviewer: George Elcombe