COMPARISON: The Italian Job
In Peter Collinson’s original 1969 crime-comedy-caper, Michael Caine starred as Charlie Croker, a suave thief who’s been newly released from prison. Following the death of his old friend Roger Beckermann (Rossanno Brazzi) at the hands of the Italian Mafia, Croker is given plans from Roger’s widow for a heist of 4 million in gold which is being sent to Italy for payment on a new Fiat car factory to be built in China.
Charlie seeks help from Mr. Bridger (Noel Coward) an underworld boss who is still in prison, but is met with anger for bothering him. Not long after, Bridger changes his mind and decides to help Charlie by giving him the names of some Brit expert thieves to assist him with his plan. The main choice of vehicles for this job are Mini Coopers which are fast, light little compact cars, perfect for hauling the stolen gold. The heist itself becomes an action packed chase through the streets of Turin as Charlie and the others try to evade the police who are right on their tails. Thanks to their size, the cars are able to jump rooftops, drive down underground tunnels and dissapear into the busy traffic rather easy. One of the most memorable sequences happens when the chaps must drive the cars up a ramp onto a moving bus. The finale is exhillerating with its mix of wanton destruction and dizzying camera angles, culminating in a true cliffhanger. The amazing score by Composer Quincy Jones is a main highlight and features cool lounge music as well as upbeat catchy pop ballads inspired by old British anthems. This is one of the most popular cult classics of its era and is on the Top 100 UK Films list.
In F. Gary Gray’s 2003 update Mark Wahlberg plays Charlie Croker, the young protege of veteran master thief John Bridger (Donald Sutherland). Their latest job is a heist in Venice Italy in which their crew will be robbing a safe of millions in gold. It all goes perfect thanks to Charlie’s precise planning. On their way home they are shocked when one of their own, Steve (Edward Norton) steals the gold for himself, killing John in the process and leaving them all for dead…or so he thinks. Luckily, Charlie and the others survive the bushwhack. Upon returning to the States, Charlie and his band of criminal pals, techie Lyle (Seth Green), explosives expert Left Ear (Mos Def) and transpo chief Handsome Rob (Jason Statham) contact John’s estranged daughter Stella (Charlize Theron) a master safecracker to help them get revenge on Steve who is living the high life in Los Angeles. The crew put together a new plan to take back the gold Steve has locked up in his fortfied mansion in the hills outside the city.
I think the remake actually improves on the original in many ways by streamlining the plot as much as possible and trimming it of all filler. It’s rapidly paced with cool pop music (soul, electronica), plenty of action, humor and solid performances from all involved. In a fun nod to the original, the crew again use suped up Mini Coopers to help them boost the stolen gold. Look for a quick clip from the 1969 film on Steve’s big screen TV as well.