Paul Whitehouse

King of Thieves

04/09/18

The Hatton Garden safe deposit burglary of April 2015 was always destined to be a contender for big screen dramatisation. This intriguing story, about a bunch of crooked old age pensioners who somehow manage to pull off the biggest theft in history, sounds promising enough on paper and, just three short years after the event, here’s the film, directed by James ‘The Theory of Everything‘ Marsh and boasting a clutch of revered veteran actors in the leading roles. What could possibly go wrong? But what promises to be a cracking crime drama turns out to be more of a mystery movie – the biggest mystery of all being who ever thought this script was ready to go before the cameras. I hate to say it, but this is criminal in the worst sense of the word.

Michael Caine plays Brian Reader, former money launderer, now going straight mostly due to the influence of his wife, Lyn. Played by Francesca Annis, she is the only female to get any lines in this film. Make the most of them, because within minutes of the opening, she is brown bread, Brian is lonely and he’s suddenly open to interesting offers. When a mysterious young man named Basil approaches him proposing one last job, Brian decides to pull together a bunch of his old cronies and go along with the idea. Yes, they’re going to rob Hatton Garden, but guess what? Basil has a key to the building, which somebody lent him ages ago and then forgot about (I know – don’t ask).

Soon Brian has his crew in place. They are Terry Perkins (Jim Broadbent), ‘Kenny’ Collins (Tom Courtenay), Carl Wood (Paul Whitehouse) and Danny James (Ray Winstone). Kenny also brings in his regular fence, Billy ‘the Fish’ Lincoln (Michael Gambon), who he thinks will come in very handy when they’re trying to dispose of stolen diamonds. Getting into the building turns out to be deceptively easy, but of course, no heist ever goes exactly to plan…

You’d think the biggest obstacle in the crooks’ way would be the brick wall they have to drill through but, trust me, this is nothing when compared to the film’s plodding script. It tries to be a treatise on the indignities of ageing but, instead, seems happy enough to have the thieves sitting around complaining about their respective ailments, or how they can’t figure out how to use the internet. Seriously, if you’ve managed to pull together such a complement of respected actors, it might be a good idea to give them some witty dialogue to deliver, but there’s never any danger of that. It’s hard to describe the dismal feeling of watching the great Michael Gambon reduced to the role of an incontinent fish seller, whose few words of dialogue mostly begin with the letter F. Likewise, Jim Broadbent is generally a delight on screen, but who decided to ask him to play a hard man? Courtenay’s character is deaf, which is hilarious in itself, right? And as for Winstone… well, let’s not even go there. Suffice to say this isn’t up there with his work on  Nil By Mouth.

It’s only close to the film’s conclusion where we get a glimpse of what this could have been,  a brief sequence where footage of each character is intercut with glimpses of the actors in their heyday. But it’s too little, too late – and, sadly, by the end of King of Thieves, it’s not just the vault wall that’s been bored.

You have been warned.

2.4 stars

Philip Caveney

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Ghost Stories

01/04/18

Anyone who was lucky enough to see the original theatre production of Ghost Stories will know that it was an accomplished exercise in rapidly mounting dread, with a brilliant conclusion that cleverly pulled the rug from under the audience’s collective feet. We saw it in 2011 and came away raving about it. The news that it was to be turned into a movie was obviously of interest, but as the release date approached, we did wonder if they could ever hope to replicate the unique look and feel of the original.

Well, since it’s both adapted and directed by its creators, Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson, it’s made a credible transition to the big screen and manages to generate almost unbearable levels of tension throughout, largely because the duo have taken heed of a universal truth – that what you only glimpse is far more unsettling than what the camera actually lingers on. In this deliciously old-fashioned British fright movie, Nyman plays Professor Philip Goodman, a man who has devoted his life to exposing fake mediums and debunking claims of supernatural experiences. But when he is contacted out-of-the-blue by one of his old heroes, Charles Cameron – another paranormal investigator and a man who seemingly disappeared without trace many years ago – he is intrigued enough to go along and meet him.

Cameron gives Goodman three unsolved cases to look into and challenges him to find a rational explanation for each of them. Using a classic portmanteau format, Goodman meets with the three men and hears their stories – they are Tony Matthews (Paul Whitehouse), a former nightwatchman, who experiences a terrifying evening at work; Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther, for me, the stand out performance of the film) as a nervous youngster who has a run-in with something inexplicable on a quiet country road; and Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman), a successful businessman who discovers that the path to parenthood isn’t quite the joyful romp he anticipated. The film exploits its dark and dreary locations to great effect, largely thanks to the work of cinematographer Ole Brett Birkeland and effects palpable reactions to seemingly innocuous things – a cup of tea left in an open doorway, two people standing motionless at a kitchen sink, a pile of nappies that suddenly leaps from a table onto the floor…

The original ending has made it through intact and it’s here that I almost find myself wishing that I hadn’t seen the stage production, because, inevitably, I miss out on the chills that I experienced first time around. But perhaps that’s just silly, because I’m quite sure I’d be even more disappointed if they changed the ending.

Overall, this is a very strong and affecting slice of the supernatural. If there’s a criticism to be made (and there usually is), it’s simply that Ghost Stories is an overpoweringly white male production. The only female or POC roles on offer here are ‘blink and you’ll miss ’em’ jump scares – and in 2018, surely at least one of the main characters could have been reinterpreted?

This is not to detract from the film itself, which manages to hold me in a chilly embrace from start to finish. I also love the very clever marketing posters they are using to promote the film, currently adorning the sides of buses around the UK. Look more closely at them.

And don’t forget. The brain sees what it it wants to see.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney