King of Thieves (James Marsh, 2018) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Based on a real-life 2015 heist, director James Marsh’s King of Thieves assembles a cast of fine British actors of a certain age, among them Jim Broadbent (The Lady in the Van), Michael Caine (Youth), and Tom Courtenay (45 Years), along with the much younger Charlie Cox (the lead in Netflix’s Daredevil), and throws them into a caper that starts out with panache and ends with something less than that. It’s still a mostly enjoyable ride, but the promise of early greatness haunts the disappointing final act. Whatever the truth of actual events, we long for a dramatic intensity that fades just as the plot reaches its peak. Watch it for the actors, all excellent, then, and prepare for a lessening of thrills as time goes on.
Caine plays Brian, who begins the story in the company of his dying wife. He’s a career criminal who, she hopes, will stay out of mischief once she’s gone. Sadly, it is not to be, for after the funeral, young neighbor Basil comes to Brian with a can’t-lose proposal to rob a local bank’s safety deposit boxes. Looking to the older thief for guidance, Basil gets more than he bargained for when Brian’s old pals join the job. They prove an ornery, bullying, suspicious bunch, Broadbent’s Terry, especially (it’s a nice change of pace for the actor, who often plays milder men). Still, a gig’s a gig and money is money, so let’s get on with it, shall we?
And for the first half of the film, get on with it they do, as Marsh (The Theory of Everything) moves the proceedings along with great cinematic style. Eventually, however, when our would-be master burglars complete the job and turn nasty, the movie loses its buoyant energy, and cruelty sans poise is less fun to behold. There is also some script incoherence in the final section, with character traits established early on forgotten by the conclusion. But when King of Thieves works, it’s good fun, full of sharp performances. Steal what joys you can and leave the rest.