Film buffs are experts at looking at similar movies in the same genre and discerning the crucial, fine differences between them – how each one varies the formula or puts its own spin on the conventions.
When it comes to heist movies, however, I confess that a certain blurring can occur. Scanning a host of examples from over the past few years, including Ronin (1998), Ocean's Eleven (2001), the re-release of Rififi (1955) and now this remake of The Italian Job (1969), I can only conclude that this rather low-level genre has a pretty inflexible set of elements.
There has to be a clever robbery (or two) with high-tech gadgets in exotic locations, an exciting chase (or three), and characters who are more charming or amusing than menacing.
The Italian Job, as remodelled by director F. Gary Gray, gets in fast with a clever action scene and the charm ingredient. John (Donald Sutherland) is a benign father figure to thoughtful Charlie (Mark Wahlberg), imparting pearls of wisdom such as: "Let safecracking enrich your life, not define it."
The team around Charlie is a comic bunch – there is no seething violence or perversity here. Characters including Rob (Jason Statham) and Left-Ear (Mos Def) are introduced with obligatory nicknames and jazzy, personality-defining flashbacks.
The twists in the story are few and better left unspoilt. Some spice is added with the introduction of John's daughter, Stella (Charlize Theron). But it is the scenes of action – which, after the opening, shift from Italy to Los Angeles – that really count.
The safecracking escapades are captivating but the chases (on water and through train tunnels) lack lustre. Under John Frankenheimer's veteran hand, Ronin had less charm but is hard to beat in the action-logistics department.
For the most part, however, The Italian Job is an expert confection in its genre, driven by relaxed acting and an excellent, intricate score by John Powell.
© Adrian Martin August 2003