The Italian Job (2003) Review
When it comes to the few good British films, their legacies live on for years after their release, emulated constantly until the next good one comes along and the cycle is restarted. One such film is The Italian Job – the 1969 action adventure starring Michael Caine and Noel Coward. Like modern Brit flicks such as Notting Hill and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, The Italian Job is held onto dearly by patriots and regularly appears on holiday TV schedules.
Although a bomb in the US on release, something must have ignited the flame of passion in Paramount's executives as a remake was given the green light; and now the result is available on DVD. When it was first announced I met it with contempt, as did many other film fans. Why remake such an influential and loved film…with Mark Wahlberg? Yes, 'Marky Mark', star of recent drivel such as Rock Star and The Truth About Charlie – usually criticised of lacking any screen charisma, something that the lead role in any film remotely related to The Italian Job would need.
As the film progressed through production, nerves were eased slightly when news emerged that the film wouldn’t be a direct remake, instead more of a re-imagination. Directed by F. Gary Gray, whose recent filmography includes the TV series Friends and Vin Diesel vehicle A Man Apart, it turned up last year and was met with fairly warm critical reception. Perhaps it was the relief that it didn't stink as badly as predicted, but could it instead be because this 2003 version is in fact a good film?
The film kicks off with an ensemble of thieves – admittedly more suave than your usual ragtag bunch of crooks – executing a heist in Venice, stealing $35 million worth of gold bars. Consisting of leader Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg), father figure John Bridger (Donald Sutherland), skilled driver Handsome Rob (Jason Statham), demolitions expert Left Ear (Mos Def), computer geek Lyle (Seth Green) and dark horse Steve (Ed Norton), they successfully escape through the canals of Venice after a frenzied boat chase, culminating with the thieves celebrating in the French Alps.
With the heist designed by John as a chance to finally pass on the baton to Charlie, someone who has spent many years as one of John's most loyal and trusted friends, things soon take a turn for the worse when Steve double-crosses them; stealing the entire loot and shooting John in cold blood. The remaining members of the team track down Steve to his new Los Angeles home, recruiting John's beautiful daughter Stella (Charlize Theron) along the way…who just so happens to be a master safecracker. They then hatch a plan to steal the loot back and settle this very personal score…
Taken as lighthearted eye candy, the sort of popcorn flick designed to allow the viewer to switch off their brain and enjoy, then the remake of The Italian Job succeeds admirably. Fast paced, action-packed and entertaining throughout, screenwriters Wayne and Donna Powers have captured the cheeky spirit of the original whilst reshaping the structure for the 21st century. Gray has then successfully managed to translate from page to screen, creating an action film worth its salt and a film that can sustain repeat viewings. After seeing it back in the cinema in September, and now again on DVD, I can indeed confirm that The Italian Job maintains its grip on the viewer.
Even Mark Wahlberg manages to create a watchable performance, in fact it borders on a very good one. Although he has shown a lack of acting talent in the past, when teamed up with a good script and director he is able to shine. He may lack the skills and panache of Michael Caine, but alongside his co-stars he manages to cut a niche above them and form a leading man's presence. Donald Sutherland's brief appearance also adds some heart to the film, something his on-screen daughter Theron manages to maintain…the film may not be a heart-wrenching drama, but she does manage to evoke some sympathy and allows the viewer to understand her anger. The remaining actors are all good in their individual roles, especially the slimy Ed Norton – he may have grumbled over his contractual obligation to star in the film, but he still manages to create the quintessential villain for our 'heroes' to battle; which in itself is ironic, as the heroes we root for in the film are criminals, people who live to steal from others. Yet as John Bridger comments at the beginning, there are two types of thieves – those who steal to define their lives, and those who steal to enrich them. Fortunately the protagonists in The Italian Job are the latter.
Available on Region 1 back in October, us UK consumers are now able to get our hands on an identical disc – but how does it shape up?
The menus are animated excellently, designed like the architectural software employed in the film itself, with frameworks of buildings and a Tron-esque rendition of the chase scenes. They are very easy to navigate.
A trademark DVD transfer, presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, with excellent colour definition and a crisp and clear print throughout – with only the odd artefact preventing this from being deemed reference quality. Flesh tones are natural, with no compression signs nor dust or grain evident.
Get ready to test your surround-sound setup; this Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is an action-packed affair, full of excellent rear channel use and the subwoofer definitely gets a good workout, especially in the opening Venice chase sequence. Dialogue is presented clearly, although right at the start I had a slight problem with the centre speaker's volume level, but a quick tweak of my audio settings ensured that the problem was stopped there and then. Overall, an accomplished audio mix.
The lack of an audio commentary – usually customary with modern Paramount releases – is replaced by a set of featurettes, which clock in at around 40 minutes in total. The main featurette is an 18-minute making-of, 'Pedal to the Metal: The Making of The Italian Job', which is good but contains a little too much back-slapping and gushing of how wonderful the actors are.
A 5-minute featurette dedicated to the script is included, 'Putting the Words on the Page for The Italian Job', which indicates the length of time that developing the script took! It is interesting to see how it evolved over time, such as the differences that the opening heist had in earlier drafts to how we see it now on-screen.
The remaining three featurettes are dedicated to the action in the film – two on the driving (running for 10 minutes when combined) and one on the stunts…interesting stuff, and it goes to show that even something that appears simple could involve days and days of preparation!
Six deleted scenes are included, which are nothing special and to maintain the flow of the film deserved to be cut – but hey, fans of the film will enjoy seeing more footage. A theatrical trailer rounds off the package.
Although some may cite the flaws that this version of The Italian Job possesses, and yes they do exist, I can't help but succumb to its charms. Like Ocean's Eleven in its coolness and calm execution, this is something that you can watch in any mood and will be suitable for all the family. Presented on a good disc, albeit one that could do with an audio commentary to complete the full insight behind the film's production, this will act as a good showcase for the crystal clarity that DVD can produce in the video and audio stakes. Recommended.