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The 17 Million Loomis Fargo Theft

. "The Good Thief"

What this heist film needs is something "The Score" had. In a word, clarity. Yes, by 20 or 30 minutes into it you get an idea of what it's about. Until then, director Neil Jordan is trying to convince you it's edgy, dynamic and fast paced. He goes so far as to use momentary freeze frames before a cut, as though desperate for a technique to set his "style" apart. But what's worse is a razzle dazzle of barely heard rapid dialogue against high decibel sound to impress us with energy and hipness.

Take the raspy-voice Nick Nolte boosting the pace of his mumbling, the Russian accented Nutsa Kukhianidze doing her best in a second language, a cast of characters immersed in hard boiled gangster jargon, and you have the makings of considerable confusion. As the fog of characters clears, you are left in the world of Bob Montagnet (Nolte), a wrecked American thief and gambler embattled by his heroin demons, and a bar bill difficult to sustain without a next big score.

Bob is a study in chivalry. When prostitute Anne comes his way, Bob gallantly rescues her from her pimp. But, going against expectations, he hands her over to his young sidekick Paolo (Said Taghmaoui) for company. She accepts the hand off but seems to be pining for the attentions of her liberator, the older, more charismatic man. Bob's consistent rejection of her pursuits is an interesting avoidance of a cliche. He actually depicts himself as a father figure to this astoundingly sensual 17-year old who is all too eager to fulfill his wildest fantasies.

His fantasy at the moment, however, is to dare a robbery that no one else would - an escapade so brazen nobody's going to take it seriously. Who else would attempt to rip off the heavily fortified Monte Carlo casino for its collection of fine art treasures? He presents his plan to his team of colorful criminal specialists and lets them in on the fact that the paintings in the casino are good fakes and that the real collection is in a state-of-the-art vault across the street with access by underground tunnel. The plan, then, is a double one: a diversionary tactic on the casino itself and the real assault on the vault.

This is to mislead all those who have a keen eye on him, such as the competing community of robbers who'd like all too well to relieve him of his booty if he's successful. It is also designed to throw off Roger (Tcheky Karyo) a cop who knows Bob's M.O. all too well. This sets up a situation of twists and spins designed to unsettle you.

All of which is director Neil Jordan's jazzed up remake of Jean-Pierre Melville's 1955 success, "Bob le Flambeur" (Bob the Big Spender). There is some fun in trying to figure out who is outwitting whom (stay with the money) at any point in time but there's something anemic about its attempt to create noirish fascination for the characters, even so appropriately weary a one as Nolte.

What is not anemic is a stunning intro for a Georgian (Russia) beauty whose tantalizing assuredness is a major contribution to the movie. Men will swoon (and write rhapsodically) for this engaging seductress, but it wouldn't surprise me if she's admired for natural glamour by her own gender, as well.

On the technical side, though the cinematographer is the very able Chris Menges ("The Killing Fields"), the visual style of super saturated color, silky camera moves, along with the heightened hipness in editing and dialogue, would seem to indicate a director's stamp.

Not a damning critique. Just a film caper that tries harder than what it manages to pull off. Which doesn't mean there's not some entertainment value here.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Nutsa Kukhianidze and Nick Nolte
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