King of Thieves is a moderately enjoyable heist caper until it isn’t. Based on the true story of the Hatton Garden diamond heist, King of Thieves is the third telling of the story in almost as many years. There’s a feeling that due to its formidable ensemble, James Marsh’s rendition of this retired gang of crims will be the definitive one.
But a good film doesn’t just rest on the laurels of its cast. King of Thieves has an irritating notion that because it has Michael Caine and Ray Winstone doing the cockney thing, that makes the movie worth seeing. It doesn’t. King of Thieves needs more, and it doesn’t deliver.
From the off with its generically jazzy score and slick opening credits, the film comes across as a British Ocean’s Oldies. The moment we see the twinkle in Sir Michael Caine’s eye, it’s hard not to shake that Ocean’s 11 feeling. The film continues down a typical “one last job” path, by handily fridging the film’s only significant female character to provide motivation for Caine’s Brian Reader to go career criminal. Whether the death of his wife, Lynn (Francesca Annis), gave the real Reader the incentive to go for one last shot, is probably something for the true crime writers to answer. However, within James Marsh’s film, which strangely ensures it fails the Bechdel test by muting the only other two women with more than one scene, King of Thieves manages to create bizarre gender politics were there didn’t need to be any.
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This is a shame as the film’s screenplay has enough wit to spare. Where King of Thieves works is when its stellar cast is allowed to turn a phrase or make a sly observation. There is fun to be had watching the old guard rally against internet usage or their varying ailments as they try to complete this complicated heist. This is where the cast is in their element. Everyone bounces off each well and there are more than a few chuckles to be had.
Then the tone of the film changes and the audience is forced to believe that this motley crew is now almost suddenly at loggerheads. “Gold drives people crazy,” Caine utters near the beginning of the film, but one line reading isn’t enough to make the put on conflict seen believable. King of Thieves isn’t making itself out to be Bob le flambeur (1956) or Rififi (1955), but the implication that there’s no honour between thieves feels false. It’s eyebrow-raising to see Jim Broadbent give off an air of menace having seen him be so cuddly in much of his later filmography, but one can’t help but feel what would occur if King of Thieves didn’t make its conflict feel so enforced.
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That said, King of Thieves has a job to do and it looks good doing it. Veteran cinematographer Danny Cohen gives the film a crisp and clean feel, while melding of old footage of the crew taken from other films is a fun touch which gives the film a small amount of character. It may also remind people of Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey (1999), an adverse effect from a film which is already the third adaptation of a true event. But King of Thieves knows that its trump card is its cast. They don’t even hit third gear here, but they don’t really need to. They do enough to get by, which may be enough for completists.
King of Thieves releases on DVD and Blu-Ray today, Monday 21 January. Extras on the release include: a featurette; Michael Caine Interview; Bringing the ensemble together; Deleted Scenes; and the trailer.