There’s something amazing about Michael Caine. Firstly, he’s 85 years old and still playing leading roles in movies, which in today’s looks-based industry (well, actually the business has always been big on looks, but humour me here) is unprecedented. He also has a strange effect on me, as whenever I see him on a poster, it makes me want to see it, most of it is my admiration for his career and longevity but part of me wants to see if, even this late on, he can still prove himself among the worlds best actors.
King of Thieves sees him return to familiar ground, cast as a criminal, something he’s been adept at since his younger days, this time around with its eye on a recent real-life crime, The Hatton Garden job, a robbery labelled ‘the largest burglary in English legal history’ a fairly lofty event for the film to portray, so will Caine, and his fellow cast of veteran screen actors prove themselves once more, or will the movie itself be criminal?
Brian Reader (Michael Caine) is a veteran thief, long since retired from a life of crime, who finds himself dragged back into the underworld following the death of his wife, who kept him on the straight and narrow. Along the way he’ll team up once more with his old crew to pull off one last, big job: The Hatton Garden safety deposit.
I didn’t really know going in what to expect, apart from the fact they’d be a hesit at some point, obviously, seeing the pedigree of the cast (as well as Caine, there’s reliable hands such as: Jim Broadbent, Michael Gambon and Tom Courtenay.) there was certainly a chance for the film to surprise, unfortunately, for the most part, it fails to make the most of its all-star cast.
The plot, such as it is, is nothing new. A fairly basic framework of an old-school bank heist, just given an extra twist by being committed by criminals in their 60’s and 70’s, the appeal of seeing these familiar faces on screen isn’t enough to carry its tired plot.
There are some nice dialogue beats between the familiar characters in the mix, but it isn’t anything we haven’t already seen a hundred times or more in films now, in fact, Michael Caine is barely a year off playing a similar bank robber character in Going in Style, granted there are differences in the characters backstory, but it does feel as though we’re treading old ground for most of the films run-time.
So, what about that cast then? Well, as reliable and venerated as most of them are, they mostly fail to bring life to their characters, there are times when characters could be best described as sleep-walking through their dialogue, Caine in particular looked indifferent to his performance, others try and lift some scenes, but in vain as most of the script is lifeless and repeat the same beats like clockwork.
The film has a nasty habit in the first act of repeating itself fairly often as the characters distrust for each other grows alongside their suspicion, and the same conversation is pretty much repeated verbatim three times inside half an hour, each time feeling wearier and wearier. We know the characters don’t trust each other, it doesn’t need to be established constantly in exposition dump after exposition dump.
I’ve spent a fair time here railing against the film, so it’ll come as a surprise that I didn’t think it was bad. Uninspired and hackneyed yes, but not bad. It’s directed and framed well enough, with some nice touches, such as editing in footage of younger versions of the actors, that come with the territory of having an experienced director (it was directed by James Marsh, who directed the Oscar-winning Theory of Everything) but this is side garnish for a meal that isn’t that interesting in the first place.
In conclusion, for a film built on nostalgic recognition and featuring such a respected cast, it really doesn’t do much with the tools at hand. Bland, lethargic and predictable, it’s an entirely skip-able exercise in mediocrity.