King of Thieves
An old school heist movie
by Marlo Sullivan, Culture Editor
The title ‘King of Thieves’, might give an indication that this movie could be about a robbery. But it’s not any old robbery film, this one was real. The movie is based on the almost unbelievable true story of the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company burglary in London in April 2015. This is now the third film in four years to cover what has been named one of the largest burglaries in English history.
Unlike many recent heist movies, like Oceans 8 and Now You See Me, this new film King of Thieves doesn’t rely on complex schemes underpinned by impressive technology. This film goes back to basics.
The opening sequence sets up a narrative intertwining the past and present, as old newsreel footage and mid 20th century robbery films are cut with scenes from the contemporary film set in London. The score is great, building tension in all the right places and starting with an upbeat jazzy tune accompanying the opening collage of old and new film.
The men, led by Michael Caine, who does a great job playing Brian Reader as the leader holding the group together, are all life-long thieves. Their burglary at Hatton Garden over the Easter long weekend is like a last hurrah, a time for the men to relive their glory days and retire in comfort with the spoils. The fact that this is about a real heist is great – it’s hard to imagine that the sort of robbery these men plan could possibly work in this day and age. With security, CCTV, alarms, GPS tracking and mobile triangulation, it’s amazing that the film is not complete fiction.
Director James Marsh’s decision to use CCTV style camera work as the men plan and undertake the robbery is to great success. CCTV footage is an interesting use of angle and shot size, but importantly creates the feeling that the men are being watched, by both the machines, the police detectives, and the audience. In this sense, the audience is keeping up with the ambitious thieves, waiting for the police to catch on to their scheme. Once the police know of the robbery, the detectives’ crime investigation seems to show a very realistic version of police procedure – how suspects can be traced, watched and observed, all from a desk in their office.
The old men undertaking the heist – the youngest being 66 played by Ray Winstone, are an unlikely bunch to pull off such a burglary and the cracks in their friendship show as soon as things start to go wrong. Yet, as the film is essentially about some old guys doing a heist, most of the conversations between the men end up discussing their ageing bodies and ailing health. The humour seemed to be targeted towards the older audience in the screening I attended. Perhaps you need to be in your sixties or seventies to fully appreciate incontinence humour. For me it missed the mark.
But watching a comedy about some old British men trying to steal millions of pounds worth of gold, diamonds, and cash, leaves a slightly bitter taste. Where were the people affected by this crime? The film totally glosses over the impact of the burglary on those who had valuables in the safe deposits. In many ways it is a film that glorifies theft, not unlike the grand robbery movies from the past – The Great Train Robbery, The Italian Job and Bonnie and Clyde. Unfortunately King of Thieves has a bit of a Robin Hood vibe but without the good intentions.
By not having a single scene about or including those impacted by the theft, could this be a message to us about wealth? That we’d prefer to get a thrill from watching people steal than see the impact of crime on people’s livelihoods. While it very briefly touches on the cycle of crime in the story of Brian Reader, there is so much more King of Thieves could have said.
As the credits rolled and we learnt what happened to the real men of the Hatton Garden burglary, I was reminded that this was based on true events and at no time were the victims mentioned. I wonder if a film in 2019 can gloss over so many moral questions.