May 2021

The Italian Job (2003)

DIRECTOR: F. Gary Gray

CAST: Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Jason Statham, Seth Green, Mos Def, Donald Sutherland


The Italian Job takes its name from a 1969 British film starring Michael Caine, but the two films have little in common besides the title and some minor plot elements, and 2003’s version is its own entity enough to disregard the original and review purely on its own merits.  The Italian Job is in the same vein as 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven, and will likely appeal to the same audience.  The Italian Job isn’t quite as much of a lighthearted lark—though apart from an occasional “dramatic” scene, it’s not taking things ultra-seriously either—but it follows the basic structure of this kind of slick whiz-bang heist/action caper, a colorful crew of thieves, a complicated heist (the movie is bookended with two), and a few twists and turns.  It’s not a great movie, but it goes on its way with slick panache, and is involving enough to be an entertaining diversion.

Despite the title, the actual “Italian Job” is only the beginning of the movie, where we’re introduced to a crew made up of stalwart ringleader Charlie (Mark Wahlberg), his mentor and crusty veteran thief John Bridger (Donald Sutherland), computer nerd Lyle (Seth Green), backup muscle “Handsome Rob” (Jason Statham), explosives expert “Left Ear” (Mos Def), and Steve (Edward Norton), whose primary character trait is that he’s about to betray the other five.  The crew pulls off an ingenious heist in Venice that nets them $35 million in gold, but on their way back, with the help of some hired goons, Steve shoots John and leaves the rest for dead.  A year later, Charlie and company have finally tracked down Steve—who’s living a less than inconspicuous lifestyle in a lavish mansion in the Hollywood Hills—and have their sights set on payback.  To this end, Charlie recruits John’s daughter, expert safecracker Stella (Charlize Theron).

When it comes to the preparation and execution of ingenious heists, The Italian Job passes muster credibly enough.  There’s some nifty bits in both the beginning and ending heists (including one re-used from the first in the climax), and the occasional twist and turn (like the “shell game” of the three armored cars).  The emphasis is on action, kicking off with a boat chase through the watery canals of Venice and later using the sporty, maneuverable Mini Coopers to their best advantage (the movie shows off its Mini Coopers enough for one to wonder if there was some major product placement going on; incidentally the Mini Coopers are also one of the few elements carried over from the 1969 film).  Tonally, there’s a little more tension and danger than the lightweight Ocean’s Eleven—after all, everyone is seeking revenge for the murder of Charlie’s mentor and Stella’s father—but things aren’t too serious.  There’s some side complications tossed in, including an angry Ukrainian mobster (Olek Krupa), but he doesn’t get much screentime and basically functions as a plot device.  There’s plenty of one-liners and humorous side bits, and we get flashback origin stories of the colorful crew (“Left Ear”, for example, is so-called because he deafened himself in one ear after putting too many M80s in a toilet bowl).

Mark Wahlberg might be the “star”, but he doesn’t bring a lot to the proceedings (as usual) and one could say he’s the blandest member of the crew; the more charismatic Charlize Theron draws focus in their scenes together (I guess there’s supposed to be some measure of low-key budding romance here, but it’s not well developed).  Jason Statham, Seth Green, and Mos Def provide a mix of backup muscle and comic relief.  Edward Norton (sporting a twirl-worthy mustache) is suitably weaselly, and Donald Sutherland has a nice opening bit as the mentor who drops sage nuggets of wisdom like “there are those who steal to enrich their lives, and those who steal to define their lives”.

The Italian Job is nothing more and nothing less than a standard-issue slick heist caper, with some engaging action sequences and nifty touches in the heists.  It might be a slice of slickly produced fluff, but it gets in, gets out, and gets the job done, and does a reasonably skillful job of maintaining our interest while it lasts.

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