The 1969 Italian Job was a caper in both senses of the word – a crime film and a playful skip. The latter aspect is overdone, and for the most part the movie is fey, feckless and aggressively British. Directed by Peter Collison, it centres around one Charlie Croker (Michael Caine), a master thief recently released from prison, and his attempt to relive the Turin authorities of four million dollars via a daring heist. Unless you’re a diehard Caine fan, or thrill to the sight of Noel Coward (miscast as criminal mastermind John Bridger), there’s nothing in the first hour to quicken the blood. However, just as you’re prepared to give up, the characters stop yacking and start driving. The next thirty minutes, in which three Mini Coopers carrying the loot go down staircases, up buildings and through tunnels, are riveting – though an ambiguous ending messes things up again.
As the director, producer and writers of the 2003 Italian Job attest in the making-of featurette, their version was more of an inspired retelling than a remake. Some aspects of the original are retained – there’s still a Charlie Croker, a John Bridger, a heist, and the getaway cars are still Mini Coopers. What’s new is that the characters are now American, and the heist they’re pulling is against a former associate Steve (Edward Norton), who double-crossed them and killed Bridger. The original version had way too many thieves sharing screen time. This time they’re just five – Mark Wahlberg as Croker, Jason Statham, Mos Def, Seth Green, and Charlize Theron as Bridger’s daughter.
The build-up’s more fun this time around – especially when Steve becomes wise to their plans – but it wouldn’t be a Hollywood action remake unless the main aim was to better every stunt that was there in the original. In this, the movie is successful, even if certain complexities of plot and character seem to have been sacrificed along the way. Final verdict: good, speedy fun, but no Ocean’s Eleven. Both DVDs come with extras detailing how the films were made (Caine’s absence gives the 2003 interviews the edge in terms of star power). The original version does have a commentary track though, in which producer Michael Deeley clears the air regarding Croker’s unexplained “great idea".
A version of this review appeared in Time Out Delhi.