A slow-paced cockney robbery
During the 2015 Easter weekend, 73 safe deposits worth £14 million were raided and stolen from the Hatton Garden vault. Surprise spread across the nation when it emerged that the thieves were all in their late 60s or 70s, with Brian Reader, the leader of the gang, being the ripe old age of 79. The events instantly became imbedded in cultural history and once the dust settled, one thing was always clear, a movie detailing the extraordinary events was inevitable.
King of Thieves is the third reincarnation of the jewellery heist, following the rather underwhelming The Hatton Garden Job and the awful Hatton Garden: The Heist. However, unlike its predecessors, King of Thieves boasts a stellar cast of veteran English actors including the likes of Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent and Ray Winstone. Caine, with all his cockney malice, fits the style of the film perfectly as his performance of Brian Reader is much like the mafia character, Mortwell, who he played in Mona Lisa.
The film opens with the setup, crucial to any heist movie, showing each character individually to establish the team of veteran crooks. While this opening montage occurs, footage from other old heist films is interspersed randomly, giving it a rather choppy feel visually. The conversations between the crooks are equally uneven in the early parts of the film with a couple of lewd attempts at humour. Some jokes are earnestly aimed at older audiences which, as a younger viewer, made some scenes slightly less engaging.
Yet the movie is not intended as a comedy. There are inherently funny things which happened during the heist, like insulin shots into the bum and the lookout falling asleep. But for the most part, director James Marsh focuses on the disfunction between the crooks, rather than their comedic interplay. Therefore, it doesn’t matter too much if a few of the jokes don’t land.
The actual heist occurs during the first half of the film and assumes a very leisurely pace, favouring realism over tension. While this approach is commendable, as a cinematic experience it hardly gets close to the exhilarating thefts in this year’s Ocean’s 8 or even Spike Lee’s Inside Man. Tension and momentum are sacrificed which seems strange, particularly when the robbers set off an alarm and none of them seem remotely worried about the threat it might pose to them. A sleeping lookout never seems to be an issue but perhaps the most profound thing is that the heist took two days, over the entire Easter weekend.
However, there are compelling things to behold, like the infamous hole in the wall the gang drilled to penetrate the vault or how the press assumed the job to be the work of foreign crooks (not some old British men). Marsh has evidently tried to create a film as close to the actual events as possible, making sure the script was influenced heavily by police transcripts. This does have its downsides as the second half of the film turns into a character study, with the audience forced to slowly wait for the inevitable.
The leader Brian Reader gradually becomes more embittered and Caine manages to convey his growing isolation brilliantly through tired eyes. Ray Winston’s performance of Danny is in tune with most other Winston performances, loud and brash. The character who provides the most intrigue is Terry. Jim Broadbent surprises in this role, transforming into a truly terrifying criminal who would scare anyone into submission. However, beyond Terry and Brian, all of the other characters are bland and disinteresting, making the second half of the film rather slow.
Furthermore, the detectives working against Reader’s team, who are introduced into the story following the robbery, are weirdly not given any dialogue. Instead they trail the suspects and look at their colleagues disapprovingly which unnaturally transforms these scenes into that of a silent movie. In the absence of dialogue, we don’t get the police perspective which seems like a huge misstep given how crucial police reports were to the script.
While King of Thieves is slow, its attempt to substitute tension for realism is commendable, even if it makes the film less engaging. Fundamentally, Marsh isn’t trying to make the crooks likeable which makes his film an interesting albeit sometimes tedious watch.