The Bank Job
The Bank Job In Theaters
"The Bank Job" was inspired by a real-life 1971 London bank robbery that was never solved. A band of thieves tunneled their way into a safe deposit vault, taking millions of dollars in cash and jewelry. The robbery made headlines for several days, but then all reporting stopped as a result of a government gag order. In "The Bank Job," the crime involves murder, corruption and a sex scandal with links to the royal family. Ultimately, the thieves are among the most innocent involved.
STARRING: Jason Statham, Saffron Burrows, Stephen Campbell Moore
DIRECTOR: Roger Donaldson
RATING: R (For language, violence, nudity and sexual situations)
"The Bank Job"
Behind The Scenes
In 1971, Britain was experiencing a hangover. Following the indulgences of Swinging-era London and the decline of Flower Power, Londoners were unceremoniously faced with a series of labor conflicts under Edward Heath's Conservative Government and escalating violence in Northern Ireland. It seemed only logical that the transition into the "Me Decade," as Thomas Wolfe put it, would be marked by a group of enterprising bank robbers involved in Britain's biggest robbery ever.
"This is a fascinating period in history and an even more fascinating crime," says director Roger Donaldson. "The fact that it all actually happened only makes it more intriguing."
Dubbed the "Walkie-Talkie Robbery" by newspapers, the crime was discovered by an amateur radio "ham", Robert Rowlands, who alerted Scotland Yard after overhearing a robbery in progress somewhere within a 10-mile radius of Central London. Seven hundred and fifty banks in the inner London area were checked that weekend, but there were no signs of forced entry anywhere. It was only when Lloyd's Bank, on the corner of Baker Street and Marylebone Road, opened for business on Monday that hundreds of safety deposit boxes in the main vault were found to have been looted.
The robbery left countless questions unanswered. After only four days of reportage by newspapers, the story disappeared entirely, the result of an alleged 'D Notice' issued by the government. Only four men were convicted in connection with the crime and much of the loot was never recovered. Of the stolen property that the police did manage to retrieve, most was never reclaimed - a testament to just how many incriminating secrets are buried in the vaults of banks.
In the years since, the "Walkie-Talkie Robbery" has lived on as a contemporary urban legend. Says producer Steven Chasman, "Often, in London, when I'm in a taxi or speaking to someone who was around at the time, they remember the Walkie-Talkie Robbery and what happened. They knew someone, who knew someone, who knew someone who was involved."
"The story went off the front pages very quickly," says THE BANK JOB'S co-screenwriter Dick Clement. "It was there for a couple of days and then nothing. Obviously, we had no idea about any of the hidden agenda that's in the movie, because so many aspects of it have never come to light before."
"I've liked that this is an old-fashioned robbery," adds co-screenwriter Ian La Frenais. "Instead of people breaking in using computers to hack into security systems, there are picks and shovels, digging under the ground, blasting through the bank and tearing those boxes apart with crowbars."
When director Roger Donaldson was sent the script of THE BANK JOB by producer Charles Roven, he was immediately interested in the story's real-life basis. "I was attracted to the fact that it's inspired by real people and real events," says the Australian-born director. "I enjoy taking a look at what makes society tick."
Donaldson's interest in the political and cultural details of the period resulted in an in-depth research period. "I love the research. That's one of the things I really do embroil myself in," he admits. "I finished up going to the newspapers of the time, to the national archives, digging up facts that have not seen the light of day since they happened in 1971."
Producer Charles Roven, who produced Donaldson's 1990 film, CADILLAC MAN, believes Donaldson is the ideal director for the project. "He's done thrillers like NO WAY OUT, character pieces like THE WORLD'S FASTEST INDIAN, and action movies like THE RECRUIT, and this is the kind of movie that allows you to blend all those techniques. It's very suspenseful. It's got a tremendous amount of real-life comedy and the characters are really interesting. There's a part of us in all of them."
For the lead role of Terry Leather, the used car dealer-turned-bank-robber, Donaldson turned to Jason Statham, the British star known for the hits THE TRANSPORTER and CRANK. Upon reading THE BANK JOB, Statham embraced the opportunity to step aside from the high-powered action roles for which he's famous. "This, thankfully, hasn't been one that's tested me too much in the stunt department," says the actor. "I've replaced holding a gun with holding a pint of ale. I'm not hanging out of helicopters and doing a lot of the silliness I've been paid to do in the past. This is more of a sophisticated thriller. I'm sure it's going to be a great crowd pleaser."
"Jason's like a British Steve McQueen," avows Donaldson. "There's a really great, brooding sort of quality about him. He does a lot with a little, and he's very charismatic. He's not like anyone else that I know of on screen."
"The part of Terry really shows Jason's great range as an actor," adds Roven. "It allows him to do it all, from being the tough guy to struggling with romantic conflict. He's also incredibly likable. He has such a great persona on screen that the audience automatically gravitates to him."
Complicating Terry's life is an alluring old friend, Martine, who embroils him in both the bank job and a difficult romantic triangle. Like Martine, actress Saffron Burrows is a former model who left the world of fashion to pursue a new career. "Martine Love is, in a sense, like me in many ways," says Burrows. "She and Terry have this history together, which I like in the way that it's quite undefined and the writers haven't chosen to nail down entirely what their history is."
"Saffron is beautiful and a great actress as well," declares Roger Donaldson. "She has this wonderful combination of great looks, depth, and effortless poise."
Rising stage and screen star Stephen Campbell Moore is Kevin, Terry's best friend and an aspiring photographer. "He's part of Terry's gang and basically, when Terry asks him to come along on this job, he does what Terry says," explains the actor. "Kevin has always been in love with Martine. He thinks that he and Martine have a 'thing' still, but the truth is that it was one drunken night many years ago and she's moved on."
Dave Shilling, the likeable, part-time porno star, is played by Daniel Mays. "Dave is basically one of Terry Leather's crew," says Mays. "He's also a stand-in for movie stars on film sets, and he thinks he's quite fashionable, a boy about town, but he gets in way over his head."
The villain of THE BANK JOB is Lew Vogel, played by David Suchet, a distinguished character actor who became an international television favorite as Belgian sleuth, Hercule Poirot. Explains Suchet, "Vogel is a very unsavory type. He's a typical East End London boy who grew up into the vice racket while also running the pornography industry in Soho. Not a very nice man at all. He can be charming, but absolutely ruthless."
Peter de Jersey rounds out the primary cast as Michael X, a real-life con-man and gangster who tried to assume leadership of the black power movement in London. "Michael X began to believe his own myth," says de Jersey. "While he was in Trinidad he was asked the question, 'Are you a Socialist?' And he said, 'No, think more along the lines of Napoleon and Hitler.'"
Michael X becomes the inciting figure in THE BANK JOB's plot when he threatens to start a high-level scandal by exposing incriminating evidence stored in his safety deposit box on Baker Street. Explains Roven, "MI5 and MI6 decided to set up a bank job so they could go ahead and steal this evidence and prosecute this guy. That was the reason for the whole set up."
Aside from Michael X, screenwriters La Frenais and Clement had to piece together disparate bits of research in order to create the cast of characters. "We had to invent them, based on the fact that there were so many guys involved, working in so many different businesses," explains La Frenais. "No one in Terry's crew was an experienced professional criminal. They were pretty small-time players."
"We were told that 'Terry' was involved in the slightly dodgy used car trade," adds Clement. "And we found out that 'Kevin' - these are not their real names - was a photographer, a sort of would-be David Bailey, but not quite in that league. And clearly there was a woman involved, because all the police reports say they heard a female voice down there. So we invented Martine. Vogel was based on a real character who ran a sort of porn empire."
Though it is prohibitively expensive for film productions to shoot in London, Chasman and Roven decided it was necessary for reasons of authenticity. "What's fascinating is that the geography hasn't changed at all," reports Roven. "You can still go to Baker Street, right this minute, and you can see exactly where the shop is where they tunneled in from. Nothing's changed in 35 years."
Donaldson was also interested in making a film in England again, his first since THE BOUNTY in 1984. "My dad was born here, my son lives in London, so I was keen to make a film here," he explains. "One of the great things about shooting in England is that there is a fantastic depth of really good, talented actors and so casting is always a great pleasure. For me, the movie is all about who's in it."
The production covered an extraordinary amount of ground during the ten-week shoot. The locations ranged from luxurious Bayswater apartments to East End workshops, from the Royal Courts of Justice to Chatham's Historic Naval Dockyard. Scenes on the London Underground were filmed at the decommissioned Aldwych station and, for two memorable days, the production took over Platform One at London's bustling Paddington Station, complete with a 1971 locomotive and carriages, the first time ever that a film company had brought a train into the station.
The script's high number of locations posed a considerable challenge to production designer Gavin Bocquet. "Finding those little areas of London that more or less can be shot as 1970s, without much work being done, was very difficult," he says. "But we did an awful lot of research into that period. We had some very good BBC news footage, especially of the bank robbery itself."
Many sequences, such as the one depicting the actual bank break-in, were assembled using vastly different locations. According to Bocquet, "We ended up with an exterior street set at Pinewood and three stage sets at Ealing which include the tunnel and the basement of Le Sac. Then another location, which was the bank vault, was built in the old Bethnal Green Town Hall. But the way Roger shot it, everyone will think that it was done in one location."
According to costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux, a great deal of research went into the period look of the film, involving her staff, the hair and make-up team and the art department. "You could see from the clothes in the newsreels that what people think of as the Seventies isn't really Seventies - the period is still stuck a little bit in the Sixties in terms of the general public. So, with that in mind, I kept that as an overall feeling for the film. With each individual character, I tried to find a famous personality of the period to give them their look."
Hair and make-up designer Kirstin Chalmers had to recreate a wide range of period hairstyles. "A lot of the actors who were cast had very modern hair and it's a completely different style, a completely different length. So a lot of the actors had to have wigs and facial hair that they wouldn't normally have - sideburns, moustaches. It's all in the cut. If you get the silhouette and shape right, it pulls you straight into the period."
THE BANK JOB was filmed with the latest high-definition digital cameras, the Arriflex D-20, which presented some interesting challenges for the production team. As Kirstin Chalmers points out, "HD is so much sharper than film, so make-up is more obvious, wig lace shows up more - even hair looks more super-real."
For Donaldson, the new technology had its advantages. "It's my first movie in HD and, of course, HD is the future. It gives you a unique opportunity at the time of shooting where you can see exactly what you are doing. It's not easy to work with, but to see what you're doing, as you can with digital photography, is a real advantage."
"The depth of field is much longer and things come into focus much more quickly, so you have to be careful with your mid-ground and far-ground finishes," says production designer Bocquet. "We work in a world of illusion, so usually we work things theatrically, but obviously as soon as things start to get finer in detail, you have to be careful."
For the actors, HD presents a different set of challenges. "I do like the speed with which we can work, that's terrific," says Burrows. "But the fact that it's merciless is not something I like as an actor. The human eye focuses on something and leaves the outer edges slightly out of focus, whereas HD is quite clinically clear."
For Statham, the greatest pleasure of the production was the opportunity to work with Donaldson. "He's probably one of the most easy going people you will ever get to meet," says Statham. "And the fact he has made a bucketful of brilliant films gives us the ease to come on set and take direction without even questioning him because he's such a great filmmaker. He understands different characters, the story telling aspect and the look. He's just one of the greatest directors I have ever had to work with. I feel very lucky on that side of things."