Monday, 4 March 2013

The Great Train Robbery Review

The hallmark of a good heist movie is to keep it light.  After all, the protagonists in most of them are actually very bad people with bad intentions.  And the audience should be cheering for the heroes.  With a setting like Victorian England and two fine dramatic actors like Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland it would have been easy to turn this into a very heavy and intense heist movie.  I haven't read the book so I cannot speak to its tone.  But I was glad to see that Michael Crichton kept the tone light all the way through.  The flippant attitudes of Pierce and Agar make it a much more enjoyable film.  In this way, it really resembles Ocean's 11 without the large entourage of characters.

The Great Train Robbery follows the basic elements of a good heist movie.  There's the setup where the main character sees an opportunity for personal gain.  This is followed by recruiting some help and then moving into the preparation stage.  It is the preparation stage that is the most important in these films because it is more about how they cross their 't's and dot their lower case 'j's than it is about execution.  This story does an excellent job in laying out how they go about getting all four keys and dealing with the inevitable road bumps along the way.  It is during one of those road bumps that the movie takes a slightly darker turn that doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the tone.  How they deal with Clean Willy is a deviation from the rest and it still kind of bothers me.  But, throughout the buildup to the heist there is a fine mix of tension and comic relief to make it very entertaining.

Finally, the heist itself is a bit anti-climactic in that there is really no crisis to be dealt with other than Connery hanging out on the edge of a train.  It's almost as if their planning was too thorough.  Other than Connery dealing with wave after wave of bridges on the top of the train, there's no real suspense.  But they don't dwell on it and the film actually wraps up quite quickly.

Overall, it's a well-paced, lighthearted heist with some decent performances.  See it.

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