The concept of ensemble pieces has long been a staple of films since its inception. Films like The Towering Inferno, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and The Dark Knight trilogy have all been incredibly successful pieces which use their casts to their highest potential. Meanwhile, other films with the distinction of a large cast have not been so successful, like Collateral Beauty, Movie 43, and Garry Marshall’s Holiday trilogy (Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, Mother’s Day) have stained the credibility of ensembles by presenting themselves as nothing more than mere paycheck pieces. King of Thieves is a much different ensemble film as it assembles not the hottest and biggest actors today, but some of Britain’s most prolific dramatic actors, for a “one last job” movie. While it seems pedestrian on the surface level, there is a definite draw to the film in how irresistible the idea of a cast like this getting together for a film is.
Too bad the idea happened to be totally pedestrian throughout the course of the film.
Brian Reader (Michael Caine) is an elderly widower and former criminal who, after his wife’s death, assembles his old team to pull off their biggest heist yet. Joined by Terry Perkins (Jim Broadbent), Danny Jones (Ray Winstone), John Kenny Collins (Tom Courtenay), Billy Lincoln (Michael Gambon), Carl Wood (Paul Whitehouse), and mysterious newcomer Basil (Charlie Cox), Brian plans to hit the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company in London to retrieve valuables, primarily diamonds worth over £1,000,000 each.
King of Thieves assembles wonderful actors doing some really boring things for 108 minutes. “Boring” is not a word I use lightly in reviews, as I think it can be a bit of a cop-out when trying to describe a different feeling that might elude our minds, but King of Thieves, more often than not, is really quite dull and it has no real right to be. Heist films aren’t particularly difficult to pull off, with the right writing involved. The issue with King of Thieves isn’t that it’s based on a true story, it’s that the idea of the heist is far more interesting than the heist itself, which was pulled off with quite a low-key, nonchalant tone which never gives the film any real stakes or direction.
Directed by James Marsh, King of Thieves doesn’t have any real style or panache to pull off a film wanting to be as effortlessly cool as it wants to be. The opening credits are flashy, but as the film goes on, you begin to see through the cracks in how King of Thieves doesn’t really have anything specific to say and just tells a story and gets out. For a story that requires a sort of flair to pull off, playing it this close to the chest doesn’t guarantee safety. In fact, without that (however divisive) Adam McKay-level of self-awareness, the audience loses out on a lot because stuff often feels inconsequential. In a film that focuses on a £300,000,000 robbery, inconsequential is not how you should be feeling.
The biggest sin that King of Thieves commits, though, is not utilizing its cast to the best of its ability. The only performance to make any sort of impression in the film is Cox’s Basil, if only because it goes against the type that Cox typically finds himself playing. The rest of the film finds the legendary actors playing versions of themselves committing robbery. They’re not bad performances by any means, as it is borderline impossible for these actors to really do anything worse than just “phone it in,” but when the youngest, freshest-faced actor in your film is who the audience walks away thinking “That was by far the best performance,” something went wrong.
There isn’t much to say really about King of Thieves because there isn’t much to remember from the experience. It’s not good enough to make the slightest impression, but it’s far from being so bad that you’re showing your friends just to laugh at. This is that dull middle-ground fare that you find coming down the pipeline a lot this time of year, and it’s hardly ever enjoyable to experience. King of Thieves is mostly just a collection of missed opportunities that all could’ve been easily avoided had there just been the slightest push to make something that felt unique. Instead, we’re left with a barely-serviceable drama that your grandparents might not even watch the entirety of when it inevitably is aired on BBC America on a Tuesday night.
In theaters, on VOD, and digital January 25, 2019.
Final Score: 2 out of 5.