King of Thieves is based on the infamous burglary of the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company in 2015. It was a crime that mesmerized Great Britain for the hundred of millions stolen, and the advanced age of the perpetrators. A geriatric gang of career criminals pulled off the heist. They are portrayed in the film by a venerable all-star team of British actors. King of Thieves fascinates more as a character study than true crime story. The bickering, greed, and backhanded nature of thievery takes center stage from the robbery.
The great Michael Caine stars as Brian Reader, a recent widower with a lifetime of criminal activity. The loss of his wife has him despondent and aimless. He hangs around an old crew of gangster pals. His best friend is Terry (Jim Broadbent), who's kind looking face hides a nasty brute. A smidge younger is Danny (Ray Winstone), a cocky extrovert with a sharp tongue and bullying nature. Then there's the quasi deaf Kenny (Tom Courtney), a sleepy lookout man who makes corned beef sandwiches. Rounding out the gang is Carl (Paul Whitehouse), the skinniest crook for getting into tight spaces.
Brian is lured back into the game by a mild mannered electrician. Charlie Cox co-stars as the much younger Basil, who's got a surefire plan for a huge score. The Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company has a vault loaded with diamonds. Brian, a gem expert, gathers the old boys for the job of a lifetime. Everything doesn't go according to plan, and exposes deep rifts between the supposed friends. The gang succumbs to infighting with the police hot on their trail.
King of Thieves plays out like a retirement home version of Snatch. The swinging jazz soundtrack and snappy cockney dialogue gives the film an upbeat vibe. Director James Marsh (Shadow Dancer, The Theory of Everything) also intercuts vintage shots of the actors from their sixties era films. This younger footage reinforces the criminal history of the gang. It's a cool stylistic choice that adds a hip flavor to the film.
Where King of Thieves goes south is the actual crime. It's handled in a realistic way, but is strangely a small part of the film. The heist happens fairly early in the second act, with the aftermath being the primary focus of the story. Marsh needed to go deeper and stretch out these scenes. Half the fun of a bank robbery movie is seeing the nuts and bolts details. The Hatton Garden burglary had a degree of complexity that is glossed over in the film. King of Thieves should have had the robbery at the forefront, then the fallout between the criminals secondary. That's a difficult choice with a cast of this calibre. I think James Marsh may have been a little starstruck by his ensemble.
The banter between the actors is the best part of the film. I've just criticized King of Thieves for putting too much emphasis on the characters interactions outside the heist, but it is quite entertaining. This aspect of the film just needed to be pared back a little, and spread more evenly. I particularly liked the nasty turn the characters take. Greed revealing the dark side of their personalities. It's good to see Michael Caine and Jim Broadbent as sinister. They also drop quite a few f-bombs in the back and forth. The swearing adding humor and realism to the characters edgy personalities.
King of Thieves should have been better with this cast and BAFTA winning director James Marsh. It didn't live up to my expectations, but is not a bad film. The Hatton Garden robbery was a bold, spectacular crime. While the age of the robbers is remarkable, the crime itself deserved more attention here. King of Thieves gets a U.S. release by Studiocanal after opening in Europe last September.