Review by Paul Stathakis | 2002

”The Good Thief” is a smart heist film. It possesses the wit of “Ocean’s 11” and the elegance of “The Thomas Crown Affair”. To add more to this caper flick, Nick Nolte returns to the big screen after a two-year hiatus and proves he can still carry an entire film on his own.

Bob (Nick Nolte) is an aging gambler and a former thief on the verge of hitting rock bottom. He spends his days in crummy pubs in Nice, coping with a heroin addiction and gambling for small sums of money. But when rumors surface around town, that Bob is back in business and planning a large robbery, Roger (Tcheky Karyo), a French policeman, begins to suspect him and pursue him.

The movie changes direction when Bob meets a teenage prostitute named Anne (Nutsa Kukhianidze) and takes a liking into her. He feels for her and understands where she’s coming from since he also leads a troubled and disorganized life. But Bob has hopes of pulling his act together.

Little by little, he begins to progress, first rescuing Anne and taking her in and then cuffing himself to his own bed to make sure he doesn’t reach for any drugs. He is determined to correct his bad habits, but he slips and makes another mistake. He bets his last 70, 000 Francs on a horse race and loses.

He is forced to quickly change his ways and he does. He snaps back to reality and comes out of his daze. But this time, the stakes are against him and that’s just the way he likes it. He’s not a fool. He’s an intelligent man. He’s a smart thief who knows how to methodically proceed. In short, he is the man with the master plan.

He gets an offer he can’t refuse, which is to steal goods from a prestigious casino in Southern France. The name of the casino is the Monte-Carlo and the goods in question, not money but paintings. To pull off the hit, Bob gathers a team of specialists, men he trusts. At first, “The Good Thief” sets itself up like your usual hit-and-run film, but it gets deeper. In fact, it’s rich and intriguing.

Aside from Neil Jordan’s (“The Crying Game”) notable direction, which captures the elusive beauty of Nice, the cast is astounding. Nolte, deep-voiced and sarcastic, pitching memorable one-liners is revitilazing. His character, here, is like the criminal version of James Bond: chic, always persuasive, and always one step ahead of the game. So Neil Jordan should feel special for having, at least, achieved one thing: bringing out Nolte’s richest performance yet.

The supporting the cast is equally good. Ralph Fiennes, definitely one of the finest actors out there, also has a small bit in the movie. He plays a freaky art collector. At one point in the film, Nolte’s character sells him a fake Picasso painting. There’s a whole story behind how Bob got a hold of a Picasso painting. It’s hysterical. But when Fiennes discovers that the painting is a fake, he pays Bob a visit and it isn’t pretty one. Great little scene right there, which adds more thrill and punch to the film.

The story is solid and special, because it never neglects its characters while unfolding. It makes room for each character and something happens to each one of them. They all have a past, which is why we care about the way things will turn out for the main characters. Great character development.

Knowing about Nolte’s real-life drug addiction struggle and to then see him back on the screen with such energy and charisma brings “The Good Thief” to a higher level. t’s fun to watch, because it packs a surprise, contains clever dialogue, a great soundtrack (particularly Bono’s rendition of Sinatra’s “That’s Life”), and ends in satisfactory and irony. If Nolte should be associated with the word thief, this is the perfect moment because he steals the show and that’s a heist worth seeing all on its own.

 

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