Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Italian Job (2003)

Director: F. Gary Gray                                   Writer: Donna & Wayne Powers
Film Score: John Powell                                Cinematography: Wally Pfister
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton and Donald Sutherland

This is one of my favorite films of all time. In the first place I love caper films, and this is one of the best. Secondly, it has a tremendous cast that work wonderfully together and make the viewer long for a sequel. Unfortunately, the ascension of nearly all of them to star status has made that a virtual impossibility. While The Italian Job could in one sense be seen as a remake of the 1968 original, that film was an attempt at comedy farce and failed miserably. The only thing that remains of the original is the use of the Cooper Minis as getaway cars, and that is much to the modern film’s benefit. The husband and wife team of Donna and Wayne Powers used the idea of the heist as a springboard to create a modern caper film that is not only original but incredibly entertaining.

The story starts, aptly enough, in Italy. Donald Sutherland is an expert safecracker and the head of a crew after a safe full of gold bars. On this job he’s turning over the operations of the team to Mark Wahlberg and it succeeds in a great way. Once out of danger with gold in hand, they head over the Alps to safety but Edward Norton has plans of his own. He steals the gold for himself, leaves the rest of the crew for dead, and disappears. A year later in Philadelphia Charlize Theron, Sutherland’s daughter, is seen cracking a safe, but she is actually doing consulting work working for the police. When Wahlberg shows up, suggesting that they work together to get the gold back, she hesitates. But eventually she teams up with the crew for revenge. The rest of the crew includes wheelman Jason Statham, before the Transporter series, explosives expert Mos Def, and computer hacker Seth Green.

The plan is to get Theron inside Norton’s mansion in L.A. so that she can crack the safe. To move the gold they will take three modified Mini Coopers inside the house, load them up, and drive them out. Norton, however, accidentally discovers their plan and threatens the success of the entire endeavor. But then Wahlberg has the idea of doing it just like the Italian Job, only on a larger scale, and it sets up one of the most satisfying climaxes in recent memory. Some of the other great character actors in the film are Boris Lee Krutonog as a pawnshop owner, Olek Krupa as the head of the Russian mafia, Franky G as an actual mechanic, and Shawn Fanning, the inventor of Napster, as himself. There is also a very understated score by John Powell that is part techno, part pop, but not nearly as garish and intrusive as that kind of score could be in the wrong hands.

The direction by F. Gary Gray is what really makes the film, however. He had done some nice work previously, especially on The Negotiator with Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey, but even that film seems tame by comparison. There is an energy that won’t quit in this project, and some very nice image manipulation that adds a lot of extra character to the locations. The script is funny without being farcical, and warm without being sentimental, edgy without taking itself too seriously, and exciting without resorting to a lot of CGI and impossible stunts. Like most action thrillers it was completely ignored at Oscar time, but that shouldn’t dissuade anyone from taking a look. The Italian Job has become a staple of cable TV, that in itself a stamp of approval, and delivers as much satisfaction on the fifth viewing as it does the first.

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