Review: King of Thieves (2018) – A Heist Hardly Worth Watching

For those of you that live outside the U.K. it may be hard to comprehend why the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit burglary in 2015 struck such a cord with the British psyche. Especially when it wasn’t the value of the stolen goods that intrigued every one. (At the time the heist was thought to be the largest burglary in British legal history with an estimated value of £200 million. The official figure now stands at £25 million.)

No, what intrigued everyone were the identities of the robbers. For weeks after the incident we were told by multiple “experts” that the people behind said crime were clearly criminal masterminds. Mostly likely a team of talented Eastern Europeans who had probably smuggled the goods out of the country within a few days of the crime taking place.

So when it was revealed that the culprits were actually five old British men pulling off “one final job”; well, the imagination of the British public went into overdrive. It may have been a terrible financial crime that ruined the lives of dozens; but with no individuals being physically injured in the attempt, an overwhelming number of people couldn’t help feeling fascinated by the story. That’s probably why, in the following three years, there have already been two feature length interpretations of the story. King of Thieves, however, is easily the most star-studded. Alas, despite the enticement of such famed individuals, that just isn’t enough to overlook what is mostly a stilted and dreary heist movie.

king of thieves

Having just lost his wife, former thief Brian Reader (Michael Caine) finds his life directionless. But he soon meets up with a shy young electrician whom he nicknames Basil (Charlie Cox). Together they decide to make an attempt to burgle the famous Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company, hoping to make a score that will set them both up for life.

But said attempt can’t be made with just the two of them. So Reader enlists several colleagues from the old days: chip shop worker Terry Perkins (Jim Broadbent); cash-strapped Danny Jones (Ray Winstone); doddery old fool John Kenny Collins (Tom Courtenay); and allotment lover Carl Wood (Paul Whitehouse). With nothing but basic drilling equipment and their old school knowledge, they try to pull off the biggest heist of their entire lives.

Say what you will about the rest of the film, but the opening moments of King of Thieves do much to endear us to Caine’s troubled character. With the recent loss of the one person who kept him on the straight and narrow, it’s understandable why the former thief would have wanted to relive his troubled youth.

This opening gambit more or less stands as the only tonally consistent sequence in the entire feature. The remainder of the film veers wildly between scenes of absent-minded old fogies and brutal back-stabbing criminals. It’s difficult to know whether this schizophrenic approach is due to the director or the writer. But considering that director James Marsh and writer Joe Penhall are both BAFTA nominated individuals, it’s not unreasonable to have high expectations. Or at least expectations above what we were given here.

Other aspects of the movie also don’t rank much higher than what you would see in an ITV drama. For example, the editing has none of the pizzazz of a Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; while the cinematography and lighting is about as bland as an episode of Pingu. That said, for the latter two, I can appreciate the difficulties considering the confined nature of the majority of locations.

Most of the actors give performances that have already been seen in abundance throughout their past works. The one exception though is Broadbent. Traditionally the Harry Potter actor has taken on roles of quite lovable characters. But here he plays against type, becoming a dark and volatile presence within the team. Honestly, I haven’t seen Broadbent this unlikable since he played Slater in Only Fools and Horses. But it’s a performance that stands far above those surrounding him.

Much like its aged protagonists, King of Thieves ends up being plodding, monotonous, and rather depressing to spend any time with. It’s a true shame that a better interpretation of such a sparkling and engaging story could not be achieved, especially when compared to last year’s The Hatton Garden Job, which ends up being a far superior picture.

Overall Score:

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