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The Good Thief
2002 - R - 109 Mins.
Director: Neil Jordan
Producer: Seaton McLean, John Wells, Stephen Woolley
Written By: Neil Jordan, based on the screenplay Bob le flambeur by Auguste Le Breton and Jean-Pierre Melville
Starring: Nick Nolte, Tch
Review by: James O'Ehley
Another example of why remakes are a bad idea.

“The Good Thief” is a remake of the little seen 1955 French flick “Bob le flambeur”. The faces you’d most probably recognize in this 2002 remake would be those of Nick Nolte, Tchéky Karyo (the French guy who died in the recent “The Core” after flashing photos of his wife and kids he keeps in his wallet to everyone – always a bad move in such movies) and Emir Kusturica.

OK, so maybe you won’t recognize Emir Kusturica’s face, but his name would be familiar to viewers of “foreign” (i.e., non-Hollywood) films. Kusturica directed “When Father Was Away on Business” and “Underground” – both brilliant movies. At the end of “The Good Thief” I was wishing that he had been the one sitting in the director’s chair instead of just appearing in a colorful cameo as an electric guitar player slash security specialist who constantly plays Jimi Hendrix riffs.

The man in the director’s chair is the Irish writer-director Neil Jordan. Jordan would probably be best remembered for “Mona Lisa” and “The Company of Wolves”. He has provided some of the more underrated movies of the past decade or so such as “Michael Collins” and “The Butcher Boy”. Unfortunately “The Good Thief” isn’t one of them.

You would also recognize Ralph Fiennes in an uncredited cameo as a vicious criminal art dealer.

However, the film belongs to Nick Nolte who seems to have been born to play the lead role of a retired thief trying to go straight. The film is set in the French Riviera. The character Nolte portrays seems to pass his time either being high on heroin or gambling at casinos and horse race tracks.

This life of leisure is interrupted when an acquaintance wants him to steal some valuable paintings from a casino. Correction, the paintings are kept in a high-tech warehouse right across the casino itself. At the casino itself you can only view high-quality replicas of the originals. The Nolte character accepts the challenge, kicks heroin and sets a convoluted plan in motion. But right from the start things look as if they just won’t work out . . .

A heist caper set in the French Riviera? Sounds exotic and classy, except “The Good Thief” in its depiction of Eurotrash criminal lowlifes, drugs and sex is anything but. Instead it comes off as the “Ocean’s 11” remake (with its dazzling use of bright colors) crossed with “Ronin” (but without the thrilling car chase) and the “French Connection II” (in its setting).

“The Good Thief” feels curiously like a 1970s movie and as much as I am a fan of that era’s films, it is really difficult for me to get excited about this movie. For starters, the heist aspect of the movie is underplayed and overcomplicated. When the heist finally takes place, you’ll have a poor idea of what exactly is happening and why.

A heist movie without a thrilling heist is obviously in trouble. Instead the heist itself seems almost incidental to what is a character study. Sure, the gruff Nolte is great to watch and gives an excellent performance (much better than his recent over-the-top turn in “Hulk”). The other actors also acquit themselves adequately. But the plot – at once overcomplicated yet underutilized – is dull and plodding.

Final notes: having never seen the original, you can’t go carping on about film critics always comparing the movie in question with some obscure film it is supposedly based on.

Also, I thought I was watching some sort of dodgy digital projection since practically each scene in the movie ended with a freeze frame, but discovered that this isn’t the case when another critic mentioned it in his review. Distracting. So don’t go cleaning your DVD player while watching this film on disc – that’s the way the film was actually shot . . .

Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

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