I am aware that there are two versions of The Italian Job, one made in 1969 and the other in 2003. I have seen bits and pieces of the original, mainly the end, and I can also tell you that cars are involved. This is important because I have no idea as to how they compare, though I do know they both involve a heist. Did the first have the Mini Coopers that suddenly became that much more famous because of the 2003 remake? Honestly, I do not remember, nor does it matter. What I wonder is how many people realize how many of these films are actually re-imaginings of previous productions? I know I have been taken by surprise a couple of times by this fact, and I wish I could recall some specific examples. There is this notion that the original is always better. Often, I find the newer one better. You can chalk this up to a variety of factors, like recency bias and better special effects. The one exception will always be the original Star Wars trilogy, but that is an obvious one. With all this in mind, I give you the 2003 installment.
It makes sense that The Italian Job starts in Italy. John Bridger (Donald Sutherland), legendary safe cracker, is chatting with his daughter Stella (Charlize Theron) amidst the splendor of Venice, trying to reassure her that he is not up to trouble. The presence of his protégé Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg) does little to dispel her fears. That is because, of course, they are in the Queen of the Adriatic (look it up) in order to steal gold from one of those quaint canal-side villas that make up the bulk of the structures. John has assembled a team of experts in various areas of burglary for the task, and we will get to them as needed. The long and short of this is that they are successful in taking several million dollars worth of gold. As they are about to divide up the loot, there is a turncoat among their number: Steve Frazelli (Edward Norton). John tries to appeal to Steve’s better nature, but is shot and killed for his efforts. Charlie saves the rest by driving their van into the frozen water, and Steve leaves them for dead. We then fast forward a year later and we see that Stella is in the same line of business as her late father, though working in private security and consulting with the police. She is approached by Charlie, who has a plan to get even with Steve. When Charlie shows up, the still fresh pain of losing her father means Stella is not eager to go along with what he wants to do. Nonetheless, she joins the original team that had worked with her father and takes his place. The locale this time is Los Angeles, where Steve has taken up residence, using the gold to steal all the dreams of his former partners in crime. In order to fund his extravagance, he has been slowly selling off some of the gold through a Ukranian fence. Yet, when one of these lets slip that he knows about the eponymous heist, Steve kills him, takes the money, and keeps the gold. He is also unaware at this point that his one-time friends have located him. The person that he does not know is Stella, and she disguises herself as a cable technician in order to gain entrance to his house. Doing so accomplishes two goals: first, it gives Charlie and company (I almost wrote “and his angels”) the layout of Steve’s residence and where to find the riches they seek; second, it gets Steve interested in Stella, and he invites her on a date. This is the distraction they need to get into Steve’s place without alerting him. Unfortunately, on the planned day, his neighbors are hosting a party and springing their scheme would attract too much attention. Further, during dinner, Stella’s conversation makes it clear that she is John’s daughter, which Steve promptly notices. Cover blown, Charlie and the others show themselves. Feeling things are getting a little hot, Steve decides he is going to transport his treasure to Mexico, a plot overheard by the team’s technical expert Lyle (Seth Green). Charlie must now scramble to come up with a new strategy for retaking what they feel is rightfully theirs. This is where the Mini Coopers come in to play. With Steve transporting the gold in three separate armored trucks, though two are decoys, they are able to figure out the one with the precious metals and divert it. By “divert,” I mean they blow a hole in the ground and take it right out from under Steve, and quite literally as he is monitoring the transportation from above in a helicopter. From there they load the gold onto their smaller cars, which are easier to maneuver around the tight quarters of Los Angeles’ underground. Still, Steve is able to catch up with them at the train station. What he does not anticipate is the arrival of the Ukrainians, who are displeased with Steve, to say the least. Charlie leaves their mark to the Ukrainians, and together they celebrate their victory. The film closes with each of the team getting to live out the fantasies they had discussed at the beginning.
Since The Italian Job is a heist movie, I would not call it one that appeals to Christian sensibilities. I mean, there are those Ten Commandments and all. The revenge aspect is not helpful either. Jesus told us to turn the other cheek. While that phrase has become clichéd, that does not take away from the power of its meaning. We want justice, but God’s trumps all, and is far more effective. What I would like to focus on instead is a few words that John says near the beginning of the film. In discussing their planned heist, Charlie raises concerns over the reliability of some of their compatriots, and it is implied that Steve is the main focus of these feelings. John tells the younger thief to trust the person, not the devil inside. Of course, it is the devil inside that ends up murdering John, but that is aside from the point. Trusting people is usually the right thing to do, even when it leads to your death, unless it is so blatant that a certain person is untrustworthy that following them will lead you into sin. And sin is what you want to avoid. With Steve, it was not obvious. Further, who was it that committed the sin, John or Steve? Despite being a burglar himself, John was largely innocent. There are rewards for such people, and punishment for the other. The rest of the movie is about what we want as humans in regards to seeing bad guys get their comeuppance. Such feelings are understandable. God has something worse in store for those like Steve.
It was fun to revisit a film like The Italian Job. It had been a while since I had seen it, and I found that I still enjoyed it. Has it inspired me to go back and watch the original? Not really. Maybe this review has piqued your interest in that area? And the next time you go to watch something, do not be surprised if it is something Hollywood has already done. Movies are a creative enterprise in the production, but those who decide what gets made are usually less so.