On paper, King of Thieves is an eye-catching affair. With Oscar winning director James Marsh leading a stacked cast of the UK’s finest actors, the film is primed for success. Yet, the end product is a tonal mashup that is woefully ordinary despite the pedigree of its cast and crew.
The film tells the true story of a crew of retired crooks (Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Ray Winstone, and Paul Whitehouse) who aim to pull off the biggest bank heist in British history. They must fend off mounting distrust and flaring egos in order to keep their hopes for a cushy retirement alive.
From the opening minutes, the film reveals its highs and lows. We’re quickly introduced to our band of thieves who are all attending the funeral for the wife of Brian Reader (Caine). They get to cracking wise with each other instantly, and what is at first endearing thanks to the actors’ ability to draw you in is soon offset by the realization of the setting. The decision ends up taking the gravitas out of the situation. This scenario plays out multiple times throughout the film’s runtime and it lends more confusion than anything else to the overall product.
However, don’t get it twisted, the cast is often delightful and successful whether they are trying to get a chuckle out of you or creating a sense of tension. Caine and Winstone control the scene whenever they decide to turn on the malice, and Courtenay and Michael Gambon‘s Billy the Fish are reliable and consistent sources of comedy. Isolated, these performances are enjoyable snacks; these men have had a place in the industry for so long for a reason.
It’s the combination of it all that doesn’t quite come together in the right way. Comedic timing is ruined when its soon followed by a murderous threat, and the laugh can’t land as hard when its based on #oldpeopleproblems for the fifth time in a row. An emotional and weighty line reading can easily transform into a mundane scene when it’s shot in a routine way.
King of Thieves is the definition of a fine film. It’s okay, routine, a 5/10. But it’s exactly that which makes it so frustrating when dwelled upon. Caine and the rest of the cast only have so many more years to deliver top-notch performances and in an ideal world, those would be spent on films like The Dark Knight, Hot Fuzz, or Paddington 2. Features that will live on in different subsets of fandom for years to come. Unfortunately, King of Thieves is not one of those films. It’s here today, forgotten by tomorrow.