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The Good Thief

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Good Thief

Starring: Nick Nolte, Tcheky Karyo
Director: Neil Jordan
Rated: R
RunTime: 108 Minutes
Release Date: April 2003
Genres: Drama, Suspense, Thriller

*Also starring: Said Taghmaoui, Emir Kusturica, Mark Polish, Michael Polish, Jason Flemyng, Ralph Fiennes, Nino Kukhanidze

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Review by Harvey Karten
2½ stars out of 4

A retread of Jean-Pierre Melville's 1955 noir pic "Bob le flambeur" (Bob the Gambler) looks like a project just made for the likes of its writer-director Neil Jordan. Jordan, whose "Angel" is a surreal trip into the netherworld of murder, revenge and violence and whose "Mona Lisa" looks into the dark recesses of London's tarts and pimps takes on a similar project with "The Good Thief," showcasing Nick Nolte's ability to project his character's down- and-outism by garbling his words to the brink of incomprehensibility.

Nolte performs in the role of the titled, character, Bob, a high- roller whose rule is always to play to the maximum and never to show emotion when you're taking your cards at a tres chic casino in the South of France. Since he's down on his luck a recovering alcoholic and heroin user and figures that at this age (Nolte is 61) he has little to look forward to, he plans a heist with some pals. His team includes Paulo (Said Taghmaoui), Raoul (Gerard Darmon), Vladimer (Emir Kusturica), Said (Ouassini Embarek), Anne (Nutsa Kukhianidze) and later identical twins Albert and Bertram (Mark and Mike Polish). Punctuating the film's theme as a caper movie, Jordan picks up on Jean-Pierre Melville's big twist, except that the audience is in on the reversal at the same time as the characters. While the friendly cop shadowing Bob, Roger (Tcheky Karyo), is made privy to a plan by the team of scammers to burgle the casino's safe, the scheme is a red herring to throw the police off. Bob's real goal is to rip off a stack of original paintings placed in the casino's high-security storage unit while the law looks elsewhere for the culprits.

The fakery of the plan parallels the fakery of the casino which, following a Japanese custom, has placed excellent copies of the paintings in the main hall of the casino while keeping the originals safely tucked away in a secure vault. I'm not sure Van Gogh would approve, but the impressionist masters might appreciate the trip their masterpieces would take across the Atlantic where they would be sold at auction in New York.

I'd guess that Jordan wants the movie buffs and the older members of the audience to recall Nolte as a modern copy of some of the great noir actors of the past. Nolte has Robert Mitchum's eyes, wears Humphrey Bogart clothes and dons Fred McMurray's ties in a film that likewise resembles scores of American and French works such as Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless" (a Parisian hood accompanied by an American girl is chased by police); John Huston's "The Asphalt Jungle" (about the plotting of a crime and the gathering of a gang to pull it off), and Steven Soderbergh's "Oceans 11" (about an 11-man team attempting to rob five Vegas casinos simultaneously).

Jordan's emphasis is on Nolte's characterization and the occasional witty turn of a phrase that he puts in the actor's mouth and his film serves to introduce an Eastern European performer (from the former Soviet Georgia), Nutsa Kukhianidze, in the role of a 17-year-old hooker that Isabelle Corey made famous in "Bob le flambeur."

We wish Bob the best. He's been down and out for so long he deserves a stroke of luck, even if by crook, and he's a good thief since he saves the jaded 17-year-old old from a life of prostitution and abuse from her pimp. But perhaps the times have passed this Mitchum-Bogart-McMurray type of film by. There's just so much warbling and garbling by these alienated characters that an audience can take, while the Philosophy 101 epiphanies of the cynical and motor-mouthed Bob are laughable to anyone with a 12th grade education.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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