DVD of the Week – Review of The Good Thief (2002)
by NIR SHALEV
Neil Jordan’s The Good Thief is a film that snuck by the casual filmgoer because it took an art house approach. It didn’t have many showings when it was in theaters and despite getting critical praise, it’s a film that is hardly talked about. I chose this as a DVD of the Week because I want to remind audiences of it and also because I want to tie another film to it later in this review.
Nick Nolte plays Bob Montagnet, an aging gambler living on the French Riviera in the city of Nice who’s on a terrible losing streak. But when his luck runs out he takes up another favored commodity, heroin. She’s his lady, as much as luck is. He travels through dark circles in the underworld but has friends and allies, who range in age from their twenties to their sixties. His best friend, and friend is a strong word, is Roger (Tchéky Karyo), a policeman who intimidates a youth into following Bob everywhere that he goes and to report Bob’s activities back to him. He knows Bob very well and believes that he’ll attempt to pull off a heist of some sort, because he’s addicted to his work as a thief as much as he is to gambling. But he wants to stop Bob before he goes off on a job because he truly cares for him; he wants to save Bob from himself.
Bob is a nice guy, has many friends, and he even takes up a teenage prostitute (Nutsa Kukhianidze) who’d just arrived from Moscow. He’d saved her from her violent pimp and she is immediately drawn to him but he dumps her onto his friend Paulo (Saïd Taghmaoui) who really takes a shine to her.
Bob’s luck runs out completely one day, along with his last dollar and he decides to do the right thing: he chains himself to his bed for a few days as he kicks the heroin habit and then he begins plotting the theft of expensive paintings from a casino in Monte Carlo. But the kicker is that the paintings inside of the casino are all fakes and the real ones are stored in a nearby house. So the plan involves plotting the fake robbery of a safe, one containing 80 million Euros, from within the casino and getting Roger and his tail to believe that story while finding out a way to steal the paintings from the house nearby. It sounds tricky and involves the help of an inside job but through his network of friends he finds the right people and the plotting begins.
That’s all I can say of the story because the film is heavy in character development and its characters’ actions define the outcome of the second and third acts.
Nick Nolte was absolutely the perfect choice for portraying Bob because he’d been notorious for having had a lot of “fun” back in the day. His famous mug shot, easily found on the internet would suggest that he’s familiar with internal demons and wouldn’t have to look far in order to be inspired to play Bob. And his performance is a terrific one; actually it’s one of his best. Nolte plays Bob as a gentleman and a thief, but never as a hood or a gangster. He rarely gets violent and can almost always keep his cool.
Aside from the characters of Bob, Roger, and Anne (Kukhianidze) the most fascinating character in the film is that of the city of Nice. Neil Jordan shot most of the film on location, on the streets and inside night clubs and pubs. The color scheme of the film suggests the theme of a neo-noir, with pinks and purples floating side by side with pastel blues and greens. There is tons of cigarettes and crack smoking, a few heroin injections, and even a couple of gunshots fired here and there but the film is only adult oriented through its themes and looks. The pacing is quick and one barely notices that the film’s almost two hours in length. All of the actor’s spirits are high, everyone seems to be either enjoying their characters or to had really delved deep into them and the overall product is energetic and, well, wonderful. It looks and feels like a passion project, which it enormously is.
The Good Thief is the remake of a classic French film titled Bob le Flambeur (1956). It was directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, whose career included many gangster films starring the best French actors of their time, and he made many classics like Bob le Flambeur. The original film also took place in France but was shot in black and white and Neil Jordan adapted the central hero into having a French mother and an American father, or so Bob claims, so that would explain why everyone speaks English throughout.
This is a great movie; a highly energetic, well shot and lit, and terrifically acted film and one that I’d watched several times throughout the years. I have persuaded all of the people that I know that had watched it and enjoyed it to watch the original classic and neither film is ever preferred over the other. That’s the sign of a terrific remake, or re-imagining; the sign of a terrific screenplay; and the sign of a director that is not only good at his job but one that truly loves it.
New releases this week: The Dilemma, The Green Hornet