PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
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.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.