Film Reviews

THE GOOD THIEF

By • Apr 2nd, 2003 •

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Fox Searchlight Pictures / Fox Searchlight Pictures and Alliance Atlantis present a Stephen Woolley / John Wells / Alliance Atlantis production
Running time — 109 minutes

I don’t know how old Georgia-born actress Nutsa Kukhianidze really is. In THE GOOD THIEF (a “remake” of the 1955 French caper film “Bob le Flambeur”) she is playing a 17 year-old East European prostitute. She’s Nick Nolte’s co-star and his “love interest”.

Bob (Nolte) is a heroin junkie, degenerate gambler, and convicted thief living on the grimy side of Nice. The first thing Anne (Kukhianidze) says when she sees Bob shooting up in the bar bathroom is, “You’re too old to be doing that.” He’s not the kind of old man a 17 year-old would find “hot,” but, being Bob is played by a rough-and-tumble Movie Star must make the bizarre fantasy work for director/writer Neil Jordan.

After all, doesn’t everybody want to sleep with Movie Star Nick Nolte?

Bob is a big risk taker and when he loses all his money on a horse, he agrees to one last caper: robbing a glamorous casino on the French Riviera. But Bob takes a liking to fresh-in-town nymphet Anne and let’s her stay at his house along with his young friend Paulo (Said Taghmaoui). Before Bob can plan the heist, he has to go “cold turkey.” As he crawls to his bed, Anne says: “You look good for a man your age.” While self-shackled to his bed next to a vomit pot (and hopefully a bed pan), Anne appears in bra and panties to climb all over him and tempt him. Paulo promptly falls madly in love with Anne but she’s bored with him and prefers smoking heroin with her Russian mob benefactors.

Following Bob around because he has nothing better to do is Roger (Tcheky Karyo), a cop who believes Bob and his assembled crew are planning a big heist. Bob and Roger are on opposite sides of the law, but appreciate and fondly can’t resist liking each other. What’s not to like about Bob?

If you want a Movie Star in your film and he is playing an old loser junkie or she is playing a Puerto Rican maid living in the Bronx, you must – it’s in the Bible, the Screenwriting Bible – at some point get the Movie Star dolled up and glamorous. The Movie Star demands the audience leave the theater with a proper last image. Hey, it even happened in ABOUT SCHMIDT.

So Bob and Anne get cleaned up nice and go to the Monte Carlo casino for the heist. Anne drapes herself around Armani Bob like he’s a young Brad Pitt. And, lo and behold, it happens to be her birthday. She’s 18 and legal. They go off into the sunset together. Are we supposed to assume they will spend their big winning night in separate rooms? If they lived in Victoria World, yes, they would.

The heist? Who could follow it? Mumbling in heavy French-accented English, the characters contrive a muddled heist with a double cross factored in and twins with their own plans. As soon as the transsexual weight-lifter member of Bob’s team gripes about hating spiders, well, you know what’s in store for the heist.

Small parts are nicely handled by filmmakers/actors Mark and Michael Polish, and Ralph Fiennes as an art dealer. But Kukhianidze’s posing, instead of acting, annoyed me. I know Anne is a petulant young girl with shallow morals, but Kukhianidze plays every scene as a theater audition.

I like my movie heists smart, well-designed, calculating and skillfully executed. That doesn’t happen here. This is a caper where the lead mastermind’s job is to sit down to play cards. And it looks like luck, not skill, is working for Bob at the blackjack table.

All these distractions aside, it’s engrossing to see Nolte’s electrifying presence holding every scene in his still masculine grip. He’s commandeered one emotion sublimely – regret. He uses his gravelly voice to coat each word with vulnerable, hard-living ache.

The directing is fast and hip, the soundtrack vibrant, and the cinematography by Chris Menges is pitch-perfect. It’s the script that falls about and doesn’t merit the assembled talent. And while Nolte recognizes the breath and scope of this “Its all about my character” role, the heist just isn’t smart enough to keep us intrigued. And a 65 year-old going off entwined with an 18 year-old? The magic is just not there for me.


Cast:
Bob: Nick Nolte
Roger: Tcheky Karyo
Paulo: Said Taghmaoui
Anne: Nutsa Kukhianidze
Raoul: Gerard Darmon
Remi: Marc Lavoine
Tony Angel: Ralph Fiennes
Vladimir: Emir Kusturica

Credits:
Writer-director: Neil Jordan
Producers: Stephen Woolley, John Wells, Seaton McLean
Executive producers: Kristin Harms, Neil Jordan, Thierry De Navacelle
Director of photography: Chris Menges
Production designer: Anthony Pratt
Music: Elliot Goldenthal
Costume designer: Penny Rose
Editor: Tony Lawson

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