In 2015, career criminal Brian Reader (Michael Caine) was in mourning, as much for the end of a life of crime as he was for his wife (Francesca Annis) who had passed away. At the funeral, his old pals and associates turned up to pay tribute, but he was disgruntled to hear them discussing their days as thieves and thugs at the occasion, especially when his wife had made him promise not to revert to his old ways. But the boredom of life alone begins to chip away at him and soon he is in talks with an electronics expert he calls Basil (Charlie Cox) who thinks he can foil just about any security system given half the chance. And then there's Hatton Garden, heart of London's diamond district...
The Hatton Garden burglary seized the headlines, not only in Britain but across the world, not merely because it was the biggest burglary ever staged in terms of the amount of profit and riches the burglars got away with, but because those perpetrators were of ages ranging from their mid-sixties to their mid-seventies, considerably older than more or less any other criminals taking part in that kind of operation. The press and public alike treated them with some amusement, as if they were a bunch of twinkly-eyed grandads who bumbled their way into that bank vault and equally, bumbled their way into getting caught. The latter may have been true, but these men were not so cuddly.
They were hoping to generate enough cash in diamonds to provide for their retirements, settling on the Costa Del Crime for their comfortable twilight years by stealing what may have been already stolen goods already: that's right, the riches in the vault largely belonged to folks who were not too forthcoming in admitting what had been taken from them, and though a conservative estimate was around fourteen million pounds worth was lifted, the actual number may have been far higher. Therefore the gang had the right idea, but there was no way they were going to get away with it as this film was one of many of the twenty-first century to depict modern day surveillance culture.
Audiences going into this and seeing the selection of national treasures in the cast list may have believed they were in for a cosy comedy, this was a Working Title production after all, but many were turned off by just how unforgiving director James Marsh was in depicting the real thieves. For the first half you could just about fool yourself into thinking you were watching something gimmicky like Caine's misfiring remake of Going in Style or an immoral Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and there were laughs here, deliberate ones, but once the burglary (not a robbery - robbery takes a threat of violence with it, and these men were not armed) gets going, there was a definite gritty edge to the proceedings making itself plainer and plainer as the plot went on. In the second half, any residual grins were gradually being wiped from the viewer's faces.
This could have been any one of a slew of gangster flicks to emerge from Britain, many of them straight to DVD or streaming, except this had the bonus of a high-profile cast to give it a boost, whose collective experience in acting lasted into centuries. Caine was rock solid as the centre of the piece, a man who gets cold feet at the worst time for the raid, and supported by Tom Courtenay as an apparently mild-mannered old codger who eventually shows his true mettle, while Jim Broadbent was nasty from the off, only being Broadbent you didn't initially twig this was far from a nice guy he was essaying. Also impressive was Ray Winstone reverting to type as the muscle in the heist, and Paul Whitehouse was valued as the biggest loser of them, with Charlie Cox as the mysterious electronics man possibly not as dim as he appears. All in all, you got your money's worth with that lot, and the theme that career criminals are not loveable mugs, but ruthless operators was maybe not one everyone wanted to hear yet was forcefully put across in King of Thieves. Nice, chunky music by Benjamin Wallfisch.
[Extras on Studio Canal's slick Blu-ray are deleted scenes, a featurette on the real case, a Michael Caine interview, and a piece on the one of a kind ensemble cast.]