The Bank Job


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The Bank Job is a fictional recreation of a famous, mysterious bank robbery in London - the Baker Street Heist.

In September of 1971, at 11 PM on a Saturday night, a ham radio operator in London called the police to report that he was picking up a conversation between some men tunneling into a bank and their lookout on a nearby rooftop. The police eventually took him seriously and attempted to go bank-by-bank in the broadcast range while the robbery was still in progress. The coppers called in radio specialists to try to track the source of the broadcasts, but by the time the necessary men and equipment could be summoned to the scene, the transmissions had inexplicably stopped. The police were then left with no options other than to go from bank to bank with whatever manpower they could muster.

Wait, this gets much better.

Although the police had to cover 150 banks, they did somehow manage to find the right one, entered it, and came within a few feet of the robbers without ever being aware of it. They left and proceeded to the rest of the banks on their list. How could they not notice the robbers? The explanation is that the police checked the bank's vault, found it secure, and moved on, but the robbers had no interest in the impenetrable main vault. Presumably spurred on by some kind of insider tip, the crooks' only objective was to loot the safe deposit boxes, and that area of the bank was just far enough from the vault that the police never saw them.

The robbers were not unmindful of the literary significance of the bank's Baker Street location. Before they left, they scrawled on the walls of the bank, "Let Sherlock Holmes try to solve this."

That's not the best of it.

In the aftermath of the robbery, the newspapers were only allowed to report on the crime for about four days, after which a blackout was imposed by the country's highest authorities, even through it was obviously newsworthy. (The robbers managed to collect three million pounds in cash alone.) The national government imposed a D Notice, which is a form of media censorship normally reserved for matters involving the utmost national security risks. The unexplained blackout was enough to fuel all kinds of speculation and gossip about what might have been stolen from those boxes. All sorts of rumors flew around the city, but without the media to fan the flames, the talk just sort of faded away in time. Every once in a while there would be a report that one of the robbers had been caught, but instead of a jail sentence had received a new identity and government-sponsored relocation. Four of the robbers were eventually jailed, but not much of the loot was recovered, and of the bits that did turn up, very little was ever claimed. One hundred of the renters never came forward to itemize the contents of their boxes.

This is obviously great grist for the movie mill. Not only does the heist itself play out beautifully on screen, especially since the cops and robbers came within conversational distance of one another, but the unsolved mysteries of the case fill in the script perfectly. Why did more people not come forward to report the contents of what they lost, or to claim the portion that was recovered? Why did the walkie-talkie transmissions suddenly cease? Why were some robbers protected instead of prosecuted? The screenwriters even managed to locate some of the men involved in the robbery, and they co-operated in return for a promise of anonymity, thus providing the scribes with more details of the heist, and a pretty good overview of what the robbers hauled in that weekend. As portrayed in the film, the items included sexually explicit pictures of Princess Margaret, a ledger book filled with payouts to dirty cops, and all sorts of embarrassing photos of important aristocrats engaged in various activities with expensive prostitutes.

The movie can't be called "factually accurate," but what can be said is that the writers were careful not to contradict any of the established facts of the case. They filled in the public record with the recollections of the robbers, and the rest of the script is a matter of informed speculation and fictionalization. The pictures of the princess, for example, are placed by the writers in the safe deposit box of a real-life character named Michael X, a criminal who cloaked his larcenous behavior in the guise of black activism. As the film presents it, his possession of the pictures allowed him to escape prosecution.

The film's version of the story does offer possible explanations for all of the various mysteries of the case, but they are hypothetical. The most engaging and controversial hypothesis put forth here is that the entire robbery could ultimately be traced back (indirectly, of course) to the British domestic intelligence service, which took steps to inform people who would inform other people, and so forth for the number of steps necessary to tip off the robbers while maintaining complete deniability for MI5. Why would the spymasters do such a thing? Their theoretical motivation was to obtain certain material which they knew to exist but could not obtain through legal warrants, particularly the sensitive material in the box of Michael X.

The film's direction has kind of a retro feel to it, as you might expect from a director in his sixties. He does a good job on maintaining the necessary dramatic tension in the key moments, but employs none of the modern sorts of directorial and editing embellishments that one might find in the Guy Richie crime films, for example. The style of the film is discretionally unhip, as the director concentrates instead on telling the excellent story with a straightforward chronological narrative. Some of it drags a bit. The first half-hour is humdrum exposition, establishing the characters as it needs to do, but never really involving us in their lives and situations. The actual tunneling is boring, to tell the truth, and the dialogue is the usual stock verbiage expected from film criminals: "I know who you are, gov, but I don't know 'im." "Oh, Nigel is OK. Right good bloke, 'e is." It's not a very modern film, but then again it's about the early 70s, so it's possible to justify its retro feel as a deliberate technique which evokes that era.

I enjoyed the film, but as I was watching it I wondered if it might have been both an Oscar candidate and a box office smash in the hands of Paul Greengrass. If Greengrass could make an exciting movie out of that lame script for The Bourne Ultimatum, imagine what he could do with a story like this. Oh, well. Given that my version is imaginary, the actual film is still worth your time if you care less for style than substance. In spite of some weaknesses in the film, the story is such a ripping yarn that it's a lot of fun to watch.


* widescreen anamorphic

* whatever







3 BBC (of 5 stars)
78 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)







7.8 IMDB summary (of 10)


Box Office Mojo.








There is some nudity, but it all comes from background hookers, minor characters, and strippers. (Louise Chambers shows her breasts.)

The only significant female role belongs to Saffron Burrows, who remains clothed, as does Keeley Hawes in a smaller role.








Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a: