“I won’t hear nuthin’ said against them Poles. You ever tried laying a patio without Poles?” spits Michael Caine’s Brian Reader at his crew as they prepare for a heist in King of Thieves, James Marsh’s (The Theory of Everything) cinematic version of the famous Hatton Garden Heist. Quickly realising it would be easy to blame his characters’ dissatisfaction at life on immigration, especially considering Michael Caine is a Brexit advocate and the older generation were the biggest supporters, Marsh refuses to accept this and sprinkles anti-Brexit sentiment throughout the movie.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t develop it beyond Ray Winstone muttering stuff about “Albanians”, and it is indicative of the biggest problem in King of Thieves. It’s a film willing to put forward many ideas without the will to develop one of them. Often playing like an afterthought, scenes lack propulsion and the dramatic tension is only provided by menacing characters. It’s a disappointing development considering the talent in front of and behind the camera. Talent so famous and well regarded that the poster lists them by surname only. Caine. Courtney. Whitehouse. Winstone. Broadbent. Yet this ends up being a double-edged sword as only Courtney, playing the comic relief who loves the C-word, surpasses his star image and makes a memorable character.King of Thieves is surprisingly funny. It’s not laugh-a-minute but there is a small laugh often found in watching your favourite old actor swear like a sailor or saying something routinely British. It’s an odd sight seeing superstars Caine and Broadbent walking among semi-detached houses and driving Vauxhalls and Fords. Marsh stays true to his characters and doesn’t try to glam this story up, settling on a mundane environment for his unsympathetic characters to rob.
There’s no doubting the rap sheet of these characters is as storied as the cast’s background and they really are an unsympathetic bunch, lacking loyalty to old friends and happily scheming to increase their cut. Marsh avoids falling into the traps like the other version of this story, The Hatton Garden Job with Larry Lamb and Matthew Goode, by emphasising the characters over the actual heist, which happens in the middle of the film and isn’t serviced by the usual heist film tropes. Marsh understands that the public weren’t gripped by the record loot, but by the fact it was carried out by retirees, people you wouldn’t expect to pull off the biggest ever robbery.
One scene, near the end, tenderly puts their age into perspective. These are a group of actors aware of their history, and the film is a nice meditation on their careers. Archive footage of the group places them in British film history, and while it’s detrimental to King of Thieves as it reminds you of better films you could be watching instead, Marsh’s decision turns the film into a celebration of his talent, almost redeeming the film come the end.
King of Thieves is out on Blu-ray and DVD from 21 January, 2019