REVIEW / CRIME DRAMA
KING OF THIEVES (NC16)
108 minutes/Now showing/2 stars
The story: Brian Reader (Michael Caine) is a seasoned jailbird and burglar who, at age 77, wants to do one more big heist. His accomplices are all almost as old as he is, save for one. Their target: the vaults at London’s Hatton Garden safe deposit. With cronies Terry (Jim Broadbent), John (Tom Courtenay), Danny (Ray Winstone) and Billy (Michael Gambon), Reader sets about arranging one of the most audacious break-ins in English history. Based on a true story.
This account of a crime that was the talk of London in 2015 is crippled by its neediness.
It deeply wishes to make the over-the-hill gang adorable, at the expense of elements that would give this rambling sequence of events a semblance of structure.
There really is a lot going on here. Instead of putting a focus on, say, the police procedural, the mechanics of the heist or the personalities of the gang and what drove men in their 1960s and 1970s into this do-or-die venture, the makers opted to pack them all in – including one voiced-over sequence about Reader’s criminal history dating back to the Swinging 60s, clips that might have been taken from Caine’s filmography.
The thumbnail sketches of the men would not have felt as underwritten as they do if not for how they also lean hard on lazy jokes about seniors. When the bits about how they cannot lift heavy objects or doze off at inconvenient moments happen, one is not moved to laughter but to feelings of pity for the elderly folk, mixed with irritation at their lack of professionalism.
Despite their storied careers in crime, they commit amateurish blunders.
In the hands of Oscar-winning director James Marsh (for the 2008 documentary Man On Wire), the bungling adds to the gang’s likeability. They are not hardened criminals but gentlemen, the audience is led to believe, especially in the case of Reader (Caine), who in real life had a reputation for avoiding violence.
First, it was Robert Redford in The Old Man & The Gun (2018), then Clint Eastwood in The Mule (2018), and now it is Caine’s turn to be the arthritic anti-hero looking to burn out rather than fade away.
Caine’s legacy as the go-to Cockney criminal in the best thrillers of the 1960s and 1970s deserves better than this uneven blend of feel-good comedy, caper movie and Caine tribute show.