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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