The Good Thief and The Lucky Lady
Neil Jordan, (The Crying Game), has crafted a moody, gritty story of Bob Montagnet, an anti-hero of sorts. A con man. A gentleman. A good thief. Based loosely on a 1950’s French film, (Bob Ie Flambeur), The Good Thief (2003) lets us in on the life of Bob, played by Nick Nolte. Nolte is in rare form here. He plays an expatriate of sorts, an American living in southern France. An educated, small-time hood and addict, he has two addictions, gambling and drugs.
And we see both addictions in play as the film opens, Bob playing cards at a club, which also doubles as a brothel. He takes a break to shoot up in the bathroom only to be disturbed by a new girl at the club. The Lolita-esque Anne introduces herself, then leaves him alone with his needle.
Nutsa Kukhianidze plays Anne, a soft-spoken yet insightful 17-year old girl, lured to the West with promises of wealth. Now she is a prostitute and into drugs.
Bob’s reputation precedes him and Tcheky Karyo plays a cop assigned to keep tabs on him. The two have an interesting “co-dependent relationship” as Bob describes it.
When a shipment of valuable paintings come to the Monaco Casinos, a friend from Bob’s past pitches him an idea of a heist. However, in order for him to be at his best, Bob will need to clean up his act and give up heroin.
When next Bob and Anne meet in the club, he rescues her from her abusive pimp. The living arrangements are temporary though. She stays long enough to see him through a brutal heroin withdrawal, but then he makes her leave.
The art heist plan becomes Bob’s main concern. He needs to assemble a crew that will be able to pull off the caper. This is where the movie comes up short. The peripheral players in the crew are stereotypes and comical, far less interesting than the relationship between Bob and Anne or even Bob and his cop friend.
Of the remainder of the cast, Ralph Fiennes, does a good job as a tough intense art dealer, but someone we know little else about.
Eventually, of course, Bob and Anne find themselves back together. Playing the part of knight in shining armor/father figure/protector as opposed to a romantic suitor, makes Bob even more appealing to Anne. Where other men have let her down in the past, Bob has been there for her.
And she has been there for him. Since meeting her, she has helped him through his heroin addiction and now he is on a winning streak of his own.
There are a lot of good things in this film. The cinemaphotography and editing in the film are excellent. The walkthrough of the Casino is shot in a slightly disorienting 360-degree pan, the way we might feel if we were there for the first time.
The central characters in this film are interesting and best when they interact with each other. Nolte has good screen chemistry with both Karyo and Kukhianidze. They play intriguing characters, all very well acted. Unfortunately, the film tries to be both a thriller and a film-noir piece and in the end, we are left wishing we could’ve seen these characters in a different movie.