Film

The Good Thief (2003)

Cynthia Fuchs

Doubles all stakes of the original film, and more elaborately, of the remaking process.


The Good Thief

Director: Neil Jordan
Cast: Nick Nolte, Nutsa Kukhianidze, Tchéky Karyo, Saïd Taghmaoui, Emir Kusturica, Mark and Michael Polish, Ralph Fiennes, Gérard Darmon
Distributor: Fox
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
First date: 2003
US Release Date: 2003-04-02 (Limited release)

The South of France has rarely looked so grim and inviting as it does in Neil Jordan's new film, The Good Thief. As such, it reflects the sorry state of Bob Montagnet (Nick Nolte), an American expatriate, heroin addict, and sometime gambler who, as the film opens, is feeling especially sad and wasted. But, just as he appears to have given himself over to illusion and destitution, he's jolted by the appearance of the stunning, 17-year-old Anne (Nutsa Kukhianidze).

A newcomer to the Riviera, she's making her way on the street as a prostitute, canny enough to know this isn't what she wants to do, but broke and dazzled enough to think it's what she needs to do. She spots Bob shooting up in the bathroom and judges, "You're too old to do that." He peers up through his bloodshot eyes, sees her black eye, and decides not only that she's "too young" to be doing what she's doing, but also that he will save her, thus giving himself a mission and a route to some sort of movieish redemption.

In order to manage her rescue, Bob needs to clean himself up (this granting a slightly less than conventional detox scene, where he's tied his bed and providing a hallucinatory perspective on his room). He most admires Picasso, he says, because that cat was "the best thief who ever lived." Bob, by contrast, is a "good thief," in more ways than one. When Anne offers him sex, thinking that his effort on her behalf means he wants something specific in return, Bob, to his credit (and the film's) says no thank you. His interests are more complicated and more astute; and The Good Thief is less concerned with standard caper movie dynamics (where the primary guy gets with the girl), and more with a fanciful mosaic of illusion, loyalty, and thievery.

Based on Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob Le Flambeur (1955), Jordan's film doubles all stakes of the original, and more elaborately, of the remaking process (this includes the satisfyingly confusing appearance of two guards, played by U.S. filmmakers Mark and Michael Polish). As is usual in such reluctant hero setups (for example, Casablanca or, more recently, The Transporter), Bob's loyalest supporter is a local cop, Roger (Tchéky Karyo), who observes not only Bob's repeated bad choices, but also his occasional moral merits. Though they respect one another, they also realize (and more or less accept) that they'll never fully understand one another. The puzzling is enough.

Mostly eluding Roger's watchful eye, Bob puts together a crack team -- including Raoul (Gérard Darmon), resourceful scammer Paulo (Saïd Taghmaoui), and security systems expert Vladimir (Bosnian director Emir Kusturica) -- in order to rob a casino, but not in any obvious way; the intricacies of the plot, and the diverse crew might recall the antics of, say, Ocean's Eleven, but Jordan's film is less enamored of itself and more willing to take risks, with its characters' faltering as well as their wholly entertaining cunning.

Bob takes up an elaborate scheme, which involves pretending to steal fake paintings while really stealing real ones, all the while leaving much of the scheme to luck, as a gambler must, of course. This capacity for giving over control is what most endears Bob, to all those who watch him -- Roger, Anne, his compatriots and his enemies, and of course, the rest of us. The watching is made exceedingly pleasurable by Chris Menges' brilliant cinematography, simultaneously fresh, gritty, and resplendent, hardly an easy combination.

Most intriguing is the subtle relationship between Bob and Anne. For all its many deceptions and illusions, The Good Thief allows this to develop as if in a real world, where genuine affection and appreciation grant generosity rather than competition or arrogance. Bob sees in Anne a younger version of himself -- ambitious, vital, thrilled by surfaces. This "vision" indicates Bob's self-knowledge, his consciousness of own limits and considerable gifts. He can see that, as seductive and glorious as the surfaces (art, casinos, pretty little street scenes) may be, his salvation lies in himself, in another form. And the film's smartest conceit, its most exciting insight, lies exactly here -- that Bob and Anne can infatuate and delight one another as self-aware self-reflections.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image