Neil Jordan’s The Good Thief represents a popular genre, comprising as it does a heist caper combined with the "one last job" film all held together with that character staple – the loveable rogue. Unlike say Ocean’s Eleven (2001), a heist movie based upon a little seen and little enjoyed Rat Pack film of the Sixties, The Good Thief comes with a more upmarket pedigree. Essentially this is a remake of Jean-Pierre Melville’s Bob le flambeur (1955) and in some respects this is a dangerous trick to attempt. For the most part Jordan succeeds but there are significant shifts in tone that are at times at odds with the generally feelgood nature of the story.
The central character, Bob, is a hard gambling washed-out heroin addict but naturally one with a heart of gold, willing to go cold turkey when the prospect of a multi-million heist job rears its head. We know he is a good man because he has saved young prostitute Anne from a fate worse than death, and doesn’t sleep with her, not that he is able to in his current condition anyway. And he’s not in it for the money either – it’s the artistry that counts. Naturally there are cat and mouse games with the police to contend with and the boundaries between the police and criminals’ behaviours are thin to say the least. Bob is played with gnarled, gravel throated experience by Nick Nolte in a role he clearly relishes.
The film is also populated with the bizarre menagerie of characters we have come to know and love from the worlds of Jordan’s previous works. There is no such thing as a normal person in the universe of the Neil Jordan and it seems, paradoxically, it’s the very diversity (this is about as multi-national a film as you are likely to see) that allows you to identify and relate to the array of characters. Naturally being a heist movie, the mechanics of the job are mulled over in meticulous detail throughout the film, with the inevitable technological updates. Look out for film director Emir Kusturica in the role of Vlad the computer boffin. Being a Jordan film, the plot minutiae are in some ways of less interest than the characters who populate his world – a tough cop, a variety of pimps, criminal youths, devious plotting identical twins, a recently sex-changed body builder with acute phobias and assorted other lovable (and not so lovable) deadbeats. These characters wallow in the night-light mélange, scheming and dreaming of the riches of Monte Carlo casinos whilst struggling with jealousy, addiction and violence.
The DVD transfer is immaculate, emphasising the rich colour palette of the impressive cinematography. Sometimes however it feels as though Jordan is trying to hard to imitate some of the stylistic devices of Wong Kar-Wai, particularly in the now overused whip slow motion. Soderbergh-style re-freeze frames also occur with regularity and while this doesn’t diminish the overall effect of the film it is occasionally annoying. This is a slight if enjoyable romp which manages at once to be uplifting and strangely sordid. DVD extras include a director’s commentary, a short and underwhelming documentary on the making of film and a small number of deleted scenes. Recommended for solid entertainment – but no marks for originality.