Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Good Thief (2002)

OK, so it's a remake but its a good remake, in many ways better than the original perhaps. BUT it is one of those remakes where it's set in France but everyone speaks English. Loses points for this. Neil Jordan's The Good Thief is at times an almost exact re-telling of Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob le Flambeur (1956) but it adds a little extra spice and seediness to the story, perfect for a modern film with noir tendencies.

Nick Nolte is Bob, he's our main character, Tcheky Karyo is his close friend and nemesis Roger. Georgian actress Nutsa Kukhianidze is the beautiful young prostitute Anne and amongst the fine ensemble cast of European actors you will find the Polish brothers, Mark and Michael, makers of the extraordinarily atmospheric Northfork. For those of you not familiar with the name Neil Jordan you may know his more mainstream successes Interview With The Vampire and The Brave One or if like me you care little for vampires or revenge thrillers starring that girl from Taxi Driver you may also know his work in Breakfast on Pluto, The Crying Game or the Graham Greene adaptation The End of the Affair.

The similarities between original and remake in the main body of the poster was enough to make me want to compare and contrast those two images instead of my usual multiple image for the same movie breakdown. The femme fatale foregrounded with our antihero in shadow. Or is it the other way round? Interesting that both creative teams opted for the same iconography don't you think? Bob le Flambeur probably gives away a little more of the plot than The Good Thief but only marginally. For more on how these posters are really a pretty standard noir image check out the awesome rundown of noir posters over at Where Danger Lives. The sheer volume of work that's gone in to that post is overwhelming.

I saw this trailer when it was initially released and didn't really have much interest in watching the movie to be honest but having seen the film and then watched the trailer again I think I have a different appreciation for it. Offers some hints as to the content, shows off the beautiful cinematography and the song at the end evokes a strong feeling of days gone by, that time when going to a casino had some class associated with it and tourists in shorts and thongs (flip-flops) were not allowed entrance.

My synopsis of this would probably be something along the lines of Bob has run out of money because he's a crook and a junkie, Roger is the local cop who knows Bob's history, Bob wants to make one last score and Roger is torn between stopping him and letting it slide. There's some twists, some turns, some laughs and some drama as we work our way to a Monte Carlo casino-based climax.

Nick Nolte, who seems to be superb in everything he's done in my recent memory, see Paul Schrader's Affliction for proof, puts in a high quality performance that drifts from subtle to in your face obvious as required, sure he's the antihero with a damaged past (see Jack L's recent dissection of modern action movies for why this is a bad thing) but he shakes that cliche about a bit (if not off) with a performance that threatens to boil over into crazed straight villain at any point, add to that Neil Jordan's direction which brings an extra energy and atmosphere to proceedings and you have a thoroughly enjoyable film that on any other day with a different pairing could have been quite awful.

It's almost a less polished yet classier version of Soderbergh's Oceans movies with scenes reminiscent of the Norton/De Niro heist movie The Score, a plot reminiscent of great ill-fated heist noirs of the past like The Killing and Rififi (the same era the original material came from) and probably a dozen other recent heist movies but it's sheer quality steers it past being a simple clone.

Sure there are twists and turns like any good heist caper flick should posess and at times you can probably see them coming from a mile away but it's not like there's much room left for imaginative double crosses in cinema these days.

And at times it looks simply amazing too, beauty and style combining with the jazz soundtrack to make for a sumptuously cool picture. Isn't that always the way with jazz scores? You'd think we'd all stop getting suckered in by it by now wouldn't you.

As the credits roll you're left with a feeling that the film is questioning the nature of existence (an existential heist movie?) with that long forgotten (but recently rediscovered) myth of the honest crook, that is a staple of the classic noir, running the show. And what a show! He has a ball with all his plotting and planning, playing one person off on another and the audience can't help but get swept up in the journey with him.

The other aspects of the film are also of high quality, the fine performances from the ensemble cast, the questionable motives of everyone involved bring a nice intrigue to proceedings, a near perfect musical accompaniment and a story told at just the right pace.

Breaking down why you should see this movie I would say
a) class
b) Nick Nolte
c) so much dross has been made in this genre you should probably watch a good one to compare them to.

If you like the sound of the movie from my review and actually watch it, let me know. If you don't agree with me, let me know. Film is an art form and art is open to interpretation in any number of ways. The discussion of art and individual interpretation is encouraged around here. And if you enjoy the movie head down to your local independent movie store and buy it, it's only through us actually paying for films that these film makers will get to work again. At least in an ideal world that will be the case.

The Good Thief (2002) DivX -


  1. I've seen and loved the original. I might give this one a look. A foreign film in the wrong language is usually a huge pet peeve of mine, but you can get away with an English film in Monaco.

  2. i enjoyed Bob le Flambeur but i had seen this one first unfortunately so i was a little biased. Good Thief is a more complex heist movie whilst Melville creted something more poetic.