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Review: 'King of Thieves' is a hit for grumpy old men

Posted Tuesday, March 26, 2019 at 3:18 PM Central
Last updated Tuesday, March 26, 2019 at 3:20 PM Central

by John Couture

My father loved Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. I remember watching Buddy Buddy with him over and over again as a child and it still remains one of my fondest memories with my dad. Bonding over films was a way in which we connected across the generational gap and found common ground that we could share.

The pair of iconic actors would go on to star in about a dozen films together and they all pretty much followed the same blueprint, but that didn't diminish our enjoyment. My father is now retired and living it up in Florida, but if we were together, I would throw in King of Thieves and we would stroll down memory lane.

King of Thieves is a mashup of Grumpy Old Men and Ocean's Eleven based on a true story. A band of geriatric misfit criminals seeks one last score and boy do they ever hit a home run. Over the course of Easter weekend, the gang robs the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit of over £200 million worth of jewels and money. The heist is still one of the largest bank heists in British history.

The cast is spearheaded by none other the great Michael Caine as the gang's ringleader. He is British acting royalty and there is no better choice to play gang leader Brian Reeder. The filmmakers surround Caine with a who's who of older British actors such as Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent and Ray Winstone and the result is mostly pure comic gold.

Michael Caine is wonderful in everything that he touches and I would watch him act out the phone book. Jim Broadbent is able to play against type as the curmudgeonly Terry Perkins. The usual likable Broadbent shows his range with great aplomb as he creates a convincing senior citizen badass.

The one issue that you do run into however with true stories is the decision to stick to the facts or veer off into fiction. The Hatton Garden Safe Deposit heist makes for a juicy film based on the sheer ballsy nature of the heist and the age of the alleged perpetrators. Throw in the massive amount of proceeds that they take home and it seems like the film would be a no-brainer, right? Well, that's not that simple.

Given Britain's extensive CCTV network and aggressive police work, the case only remained unsolved for just over a month before the first arrests were made. The filmmakers do an admirable job of sticking with the facts, but one wonders if, perhaps, a more memorable film could have been made with a bit fantasy at the end.

I mean, no one likes a story to end with the law locking up a bunch of senior citizens for what amounts to the rest of their lives. Of course, our reality isn't a Hollywood blockbuster, so we are left to wonder what if while the film takes the more direct approach.

They do portray the fracturing within the gang in a compelling way and again Michael Caine is pivotal here bringing the full weight of his acting chops to bear on the film's climax. Unfortunately, the true story didn't involve any of the twists and turns from Ocean's Eleven, but the end result was still a fun exploration of a true heist.

The acting alone is worth the price of admission as we are treated to several exemplary performances from chiseled vets. Interestingly, this isn't the only geriatric heist film in Michael Caine's repertoire. No, he and Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin tread similar ground in 2017's Going in Style. Unlike the true story of King of Thieves, Going in Style is free to drown itself in fiction and twists and turns that would make Danny Ocean proud.

Both films were fun to watch in their own right and take a humorous look at the doldrums of retirement and our human flights of fancy. We all dreamed of being outlaws in the wild, wild West when we were growing up and some of us actually attempt to capture that sense of wonder and whimsy as we stare down the last few years of our life. I wouldn't be surprised to see these types of elderly plots proliferate as the baby boomers begin to come to grips with their mortality.

One can only hope that somewhere out there, a story will emerge in which these senior criminals will not only get away with it but leave a wake of wonder and mystery behind them that won't need any touches from a Hollywood script doctor to make it a blockbuster.

For now, we can enjoy the wonderful acting performances in King of Thieves and wonder what might have been. King of Thieves is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.