The Good Thief (2002) / Crime-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for language, nudity, drug content and some violence
Running Time: 108 min.

Cast: Nick Nolte, Tcheky Karyo, Nutsa Kukhianidze, Said Taghmaoui, Marc Lavoine, Gerard Darmon, Emir Kusturica
Director:  Neil Jordan
Screenplay: Neil Jordan

Review published April 7, 2003

The Good Thief is a loose remake of the classic French film, Bob le Flambeur, and with all of the heist films that have come out in recent years, I suppose it would seem as good a time as any to redo it.  The troubling aspect is that the new breed of conman cinema is very flashy and entertaining, slickly done with colorful characters and exotic locales.  As envisioned by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, The End of the Affair), the con game is mixed with a rather somber drama, making this more of a character study than an ensemble pastiche of humorous twists.

The setting of much of The Good Thief is Nice, France, where the once-famous gambler, Bob Montagnet (Nolte, Affliction) catches wind of a perfect heist scheme.  The Casino Rivera has its share of cash in their safe, but they also have a collection of valuable paintings on display.  The ones shown to the public are exact replicas, and they keep the real paintings in a building nearby under an impregnable high security system.  But with the designer of the security system on their side, things are looking good.  The trouble is that Bob has a determined cop on his tail, who is expecting him to pull something soon.  Bob uses this to his advantage, and the wheels are set in motion to pull two heists, one fake and one real, to catch the casino and police napping while they make off with the real paintings. 

The Good Thief is a competently made drama that ends up falling just short of being truly good because it gets caught not knowing exactly what it wants to be.  It starts off hitting points as a drama, crafting relationships between the men, as well as a young Russian girl some of them have taken a liking to.  Along the way, the heist story begins to creep in, and wholly takes over the film for the finale.  While both aspects are well done, the two elements don't quite seem to mix as well as they should, as whatever elements have drawn you into the drama are almost shelved once the heist is underway, never really returning.  You don't really notice it until the credits roll, and you may find yourself feeling a bit dissatisfied, and asking yourself why Jordan bothered with the heavy emphasis on the characters if he only wants to give you the heist in the end?

I don't have any easy answers here, and for long stretches, the film doesn't quite make sense, although it always moves forward just fast enough that you don't have time to ponder the things that are muddled or ignored altogether.  Yet, there's somehow enough good acting and interesting plot points that bubble up to keep you interested, even if in the end you might not be sure what to make of it all.

The Good Thief is a hard film to recommend, as you may get drawn in to the twisty story points or quality actors enough to gloss over the weaknesses that don't really cripple the main plot.  The story may also never take hold of you, with a slow build up that delivers a pay off that would seem like it would be interesting if any of it approached believability.  It's a decent drama, and a decent crime caper, but it's the kind of story one respects for the quality of the well-done bits than likes as a whole.

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo