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The Italian Job (2003)

August 5th, 2007 · 4 Comments

John Huston once said: “”There is a willful lemming-like persistence in remaking past successes time after time. They can’t make them as good as they are in our memories, but they go on doing them and each time it’s a disaster. Why don’t we remake some of our bad pictures … and make them good?” This Distracted Globe recycles itself and examines the best and worst remakes.

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By Joe Valdez

Ex-con John Bridger (Donald Sutherland) phones his daughter Stella (Charlize Theron) after purchasing a diamond necklace for her. He’s in Venice, Italy, and though he admits to breaking parole, promises her that after this he’s “through.” Bridger participates in an ingenious heist of $35 million in gold from a safe, a job masterminded by his protege Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg).

With wheel man Handsome Rob (Jason Statham), demolitions expert Left Ear (Mos Def), computer genius Lyle (Seth Green) and the arrogant Steve (Edward Norton), the crew make their escape through the Swiss Alps. But Steve double crosses the others, snatching the gold and killing Bridger. He believes the rest of the crew dead when their vehicle plunges into the ice.

One year later, Charlie surfaces in Philadelphia. He goes to see Stella, an expert safecracker who runs a legit lock company. He tells her that he’s tracked Steve down to Los Angeles, where he’s selling off their gold. Charlie needs her help breaking into his safe. Stella refuses, but the opportunity to crush the ego of her father’s killer proves impossible to resist. She joins the others for revenge.

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Traffic in L.A. proves a challenge, but Lyle creates an algorithm to subvert the traffic grid, while the others plan to drive modified Mini Coopers into Steve’s mansion to make off with the gold. Stella lures Steve out on a date, but he catches on to who she is and the crew’s plan is blown. Steve transports the gold out of his mansion by armored convoy, but Charlie uses the traffic algorithm, high explosives, the subway, and the Mini Coopers to intercept it.

Paramount Pictures CEO Sherry Lansing and producer Donald De Line had made it a priority to produce a remake of The Italian Job, a caper distributed by the studio in 1969. Written by Troy Kennedy-Martin, the original starred Michael Caine as Charlie Croker, a British ex-con who plots to steal a shipment of gold from the city of Turin, Italy using a traffic jam and Mini Coopers.

Neal Purvis & Robert Wade wrote a draft that took place in Italy and remained faithful to the original. Their script was rejected, and the studio hired Donna Powers & Wayne Powers next. The Powers liked the idea of a traffic jam, gold bars, Mini Coopers and the lack of guns from the original, and wrote a completely new screenplay around those ideas. Their version was also less comedic in tone. F. Gary Gray signed on to direct it.

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Gray – who also directed Friday and Set It Off – still strikes me as a filmmaker who doesn’t embrace the grandeur of film. That said, the remake of The Italian Job is an exceptionally good movie from start to finish. The script is terrific, the casting far stronger than it had to be, and while nothing about the film is profound, neither was the original. This version surpasses it in quality.

The Powers spent two years and 18 drafts writing the screenplay, and the finished film cleanly reflects this. While the original featured a mess of thieves completely indistinguishable from each other, the remake is far more sophisticated, assigning each of its characters strong motivations and breezy quirks. Their chemistry together is a joy, and the dialogue witty. The heists that open and close the film are both spectacular.

The casting is perfect, almost. Edward Norton took the villain role as part of a contractual obligation with Paramount. He did not want to do the movie, and I could sort of sense that in his performance, which has no relish to it and feels alien to the rest of the film. The decision to have Wahlberg, Theron and Statham do much of their own stunt driving lends the picture what every great heist movie needs: exhilaration. This is a fun flick.

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“In this transparently rated-for-the-masses movie, everything old is new again; but at least it’s a damn sight more interesting than some of the flicks that have been hoisted upon us lately. Molto buono!” writes Rose “Bams” Cooper at 3BlackChicks Review.

Dan Mancini at DVD Verdict says, “F. Gary Gray and his cast and crew have made a blast of a flick. Give it a chance.”

“Fans of the original film may not feel the remake is better, but those who enjoyed the fun that was 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven, The Italian Job steals the formula like the best of the pros,” writes Vince Leo at QWipster’s Movie Reviews.

Tags: Gangsters and hoodlums · Heist · Master and pupil · Train

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 stennie // Aug 6, 2007 at 10:17 am

    I’m so madly in love with the original Italian Job that I’ve never even considered seeing the remake. Your review makes me curious, though. Can it possibly be as infectious as the original? Might have to rent the DVD and see for myself.

  • 2 Jeremy // Aug 7, 2007 at 7:54 am

    I freaking love the remake of this film. If there are three cooler people than Mark, Charlize and David in Hollywood then I don’t know where they are hiding.
    I agree with pretty much everything you said and have also lamented the fact that the usually reliable Norton basically phoned this one in.
    I love the original also but I think this is easily one of the best rethinkings of an original in the past decade.
    I also love the soundtrack album and highly recommend it for you…fantastic score.
    Can’t wait for “The Brazilian Job”
    Great post…

  • 3 Joe Valdez // Aug 7, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    Heidi: I’d definitely recommend putting The Italian Job on your Netflix queue. It would make a great double feature with the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair.

    Jeremy: Thanks! After your comment, I remembered how outstanding the music by John Powell was in this. The opening credits sequence in particular struck me as sounding elegant and cool.

  • 4 Sara // Aug 21, 2007 at 7:51 pm

    I’ve actually seen this one twice. So that’s saying something.

    AND I showed it to my parents on our first Thanksgiving without my little sister, who was in Dallas with her fairly new husband’s family. We watched it while I made my first-ever turkey in my first-ever apartment. It’s a rather good memory and probably makes me remember the movie even more fondly.

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