It feels as if Michael Caine (“Going in Style”) has been making movies like King of Thieves for decades, movies in which is character is so, so old and so, so tired of it all. You’d be tired as well, if you had to work on movies like this. One last score, one last big trip, one last whatever. We get it, you’re aged and don’t care anymore. Here he’s strapped to a similarly venerable cast that includes Jim Broadbent (“The Legend of Tarzan”), Tom Courtenay (“45 Years”), Michael Gambon (“Kingsman: The Golden Circle”), and Ray Winstone (“The Gunman”). They, along with the comparatively young Charlie Cox (“Eat Locals”), conspire to rob a London bank over an Easter holiday. The job is tough, but the real treasure is the friendships they formed along the way.
Just kidding. The real treasure is what’s in the bank’s vault, including gold bars and plenty of jewels. Cox plays Basil, the so-called best alarm guy in the city. He can get them in and disable the alarms. Caine is Brian, the brains behind the job (and Basil’s entree into the gang). The idea is to get into the building and use hydraulics to punch a human-sized hole in the vault’s wall, then slide in and clean the place out. They run into unforeseen difficulties during the job, which feeds into the underlying paranoia distributed amongst the lot. Anyone who has seen a bank-heist film knows that this is pretty much par for the course.
The job itself is the easy part. Then comes the divvying up of the loot, and then all of those tensions bubble over. Everyone’s stabbing everyone else in the back and other places. No one trusts anyone else. Every five minutes or so, someone mentions how they’re old but could still crack a skull. These men (except Basil) all go back a long ways together and are career criminals, to say the least. But there’s no honor among thieves, it’s been said, so naturally even the guys who have worked together many times to flout the law won’t trust each other.
Trouble is, these lines aren’t played for laughs or even as just some light banter to sort of balance out the seriousness of their situation. There’s a strong underlying sense of meanness and mendacity and cruelty that pervades the plot. So don’t expect King of Thieves to be along the lines of “The Italian Job” or “The Bank Job” or any number of well-crafted crime movies. These men are bastards, no matter how old they are, and they just seethe with utter rage. And rather than engaging the audience on some level, this sort of characterization just alienates them.
One of the most common tropes in this particular genre is the double cross. Naturally, then, I was expecting a double cross or two. It is not a spoiler to state that there plenty of double crosses. But what bothered me about the behavior was that was so little provocation for it. These self-described bastards just turn on themselves without a second thought. And, as I mentioned, they’re not kind about it, either. The attitudes and demeanors are straight out of a Guy Ritchie film and seem out of place with these actors.
There isn’t much to recommend about this movie outside of the name actors, who do seem to be at least trying. Well, aside from Cox, who’s fairly dull. Amid all of the bickering and the apparent novelty of octogenarians dropping f-bombs on each other, you get the sense that each decided to stick out a stiff upper lip and get through this near disaster in celluloid. It’s not just that these fellows have done far better work, because that’s obviously true; it’s that each has done better “old-guy” work. Particularly Sir Michael, who seems to be slumming so hard that he turned himself back into Maurice Micklewhite.
But the plot. Oh, heaven’s above, the plot. Or lack thereof. King of Thieves proceeds in such a straightforward manner — almost like a procedural of some sort — that one starts to wonder where the inevitable twist is going to appear. I was sure that so-and-so was going to turn out to do such-and-such (look at me, avoiding spoilers), because that would have been a neat twist . . . and yet it didn’t happen. Nothing did. What we wound up with was a sterling cast thrown into a stupid plot that feels utterly charmless and atonal.