The Good Thief

2003, Movie, R, 109 mins

Review

GOOD THIEF, THE
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A shaggy, sun-soaked variation on the glistening BOB LE FLAMBEUR (1955), whose smartly swaggering reinvention of American gangster-movie clichés made it a seminal influence on France's nouvelle vague generation, Jordan's film runs parallel to Jean-Pierre Melville's. Sometimes the two versions are so close they nearly touch, at others they diverge dramatically. Bob Montagnet (Nick Nolte) is a big, slow-moving bottom-feeder in the small, murky pond of Nice's multiethnic demimonde. A gambler and a junkie whose luck has gone south and who knows full well he's too old to be tying off in barroom toilets, Bob glides through the low life on a stream of style and manners — he looks like a mug, but loses like a gentleman. And just as it seems that Bob is about to fall from tarnished grace, redemptive opportunities knock. First he saves the life of old pal Roger Maillard (Tcheky Karyo), a hard-bitten cop with a soft spot for smooth criminals like Bob. Then he rescues underage runaway Anne (Nutsa Kukhianidze) from the clutches of smooth-talking pimp Remi (Marc Lavoine), recovering her passport, giving her money and putting her up at his place, no strings attached. And finally, he agrees to mastermind an art heist that's a work of art in and of itself. It involves simultaneously pretending to steal the world-class reproductions of modern masterworks on display in a vulgar Monte Carlo casino, while actually lifting the originals from a heavily guarded vault in a nearby villa — the kind of classy caper that motivates a romantic reprobate to rise and shine. Bob bankrolls the job by selling his prize Picasso — like everything else, the painting comes complete with raffish story — through scummy art-world shyster Tony Angel (Ralph Fiennes), and assembles a colorful crew: protégé Paolo (Said Taghmoui), rock 'n' roll security expert Vlad (director Emir Kusturica) and muscle-bound transsexual Philippa (Sarah Bridges), whose horror of spiders inevitably helps undo the perfect crime. Comparisons to Steven Soderbergh's glittering OCEAN'S ELEVEN (2001), the quintessential celebration of cool-for-cats nirvana, are superficial and misguided; Jordan's remix of BOB's iconic elements is a more melancholy breed of underworld romp, a pensive lark whose fluffiest conceits are chilled by the darkness at the edge of town. Propelled by a soundtrack as diverse as its international gallery of thieves, Jordan's cheerfully scruffy neo-noir caprice even lays on the religious imagery with a palette knife and sweetens Melville's ending without seeming terminally sappy. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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