The Good Thief Review
Bob (Nick Nolte) has spent the last few decades too drugged up to see them pass him by. Despite having once had a considerable disposable income at his command, it has now vanished into thin air due to his taste for boozing and gambling. By chance, one of his shadier mates tells him of a heist that may be able to resolve all of his problems and help him clean up his act.
Melville was infamously more interested in characterisation than anything as tedious as the heist itself (check out the re-released Le Cercle Rouge for further proof of this) and Bob Le Flambeur was no exception. Jordan, however, has done his best to bring it up to date and adapt it for a modern audience: Melville’s leaden pace has been completely abandoned in favour of a noisier, faster school of film-making; the lead character of Bob, originally a gambling addict, is now also an alcoholic junkie; gone is the Parisian gentleman-mobster, enter a decrepit American ex-pat. In fact, Jordan has changed the film so radically that bar the plot line and some characters, there’s hardly a thing left from the original. As Gus Van Sant’s stolid version of Psycho proves, that may be a very good idea but Jordan may have over-reached in this case.
The cast assembled is quite impressive with all the actors being solid performers in their countries of origin – the French contingent is unsurprisingly heavily represented with Said Taghmaoui (La Haine), Gérard Darmon and Tchéky Karyo (Bad Boys, Crying Freeman) as well as some brief but worthy appearances from Ralph Fiennes, Marc Lavoine and Emir Kusturica. Nick Nolte seems to have reprised his role from Sympatico and made it into Bob v. 2003. and it all works pretty well on that front if you're ready to forgive his mumbling. Where the whole thing collapses is in the script – if you’ve seen the original before hand, it’s hard to not constantly be comparing it to Melville’s version, head shaking incessantly. Jordan’s attempts to lighten the overall tone of the film starts out so well but ends in kitsch overdrive. Nolte taking a swipe at France’s love of Johnny Hallyday is a nice touch for those who know who Hallyday is, but does it really fit in with the film? The same goes for Kusturica’s obsession with Hendrix-style guitar playing or Jordan’s inclusion of a transsexual character as an in-joke for those who are aware of his previous gender-bending films…
The cinematography, as ever with Jordan, is inventive making good use of mirrors and windows. He also uses varying frame rates (similar to the opening sequence of Chungking Express) which work quite well to bring us into the film and give the film a personal feel, though he does tend to overuse it at times. The film does look rather good globally making it feel even more like a missed opportunity.
We get a good clean print transferred anamorphically – there’s the occasional amount of white specks that appear out of the blue but generally there’s little to complain about. Some scenes seem to have been pushing the celluloid a little and fittingly come out looking slightly grainy but that seems to be intended. Jordan also added the slightly unusual effect of letting the final image of a shot linger for a few extra frames before cutting to the next scene – it does make the DVD seem stuck but this was present in the theatrical release so there’s no need to return the DVDs.
We get a good but not great 5.1 mix – the dialogue is firmly kept central and the surround effects are surprisingly underused at times. It does avoid being overbearing which fits in with the film’s overall tone.
Neil Jordan Commentary: Jordan has proven to be quite a good commentator of his films and he doesn’t really fail here. He manages to not go quiet for too long and provides enough anecdotes to make it worthwhile listening.
Featurette: To Film A Thief: Clocking in at 6 minutes, this is little more than a promotional exercise with some appearances from Jordan, Nolte and Kukhianidze. Pretty pointless.
Deleted Scenes: We get seven of these with an optional commentary from Jordan. The image quality is notably worse than the main feature with timecodes appearing on some and few of the scenes offer much more insight into the film. Still at least they are there for our perusal and are worth listening to with Jordan commenting on them.
Trailer: The quasi-compulsory but relatively uninteresting trailer – I’d avoid watching it before you’ve seen the film as it spoils some parts of the plot that are best kept under wraps.
The film is a matter of taste – I liked it upon first viewing but my purchase of Criterion’s Bob Le Flambeur has completely destroyed any appreciation I once had for it. Whether it’s fair to see a remake in the light of the original is best left for the reader to decide; in the meanwhile, The DVD itself is pretty solid with good image and sound and a decent choice of extras.