Combustible Celluloid
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With: Nick Nolte, Nutsa Kukhanidze, Tchéky Karyo, Emir Kusturica, Saïd Taghmaoui, Gérard Darmon, Marc Lavoine, Mark Polish, Michael Polish
Written by: Neil Jordan, based on the screenplay by Auguste Le Breton and Jean-Pierre Melville
Directed by: Neil Jordan
MPAA Rating: R for language, sexuality, drug content and some violence
Running Time: 109
Date: 09/06/2002

The Good Thief (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Old Flambeur

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Not so long ago, Jean-Pierre Melville's films were considered relatively obscure, known only to the most die-hard cineastes. But nowadays, as the remake of Bob le Flambeur emerges this weekend, Melville is on the verge of a full-fledged revival.

The original Bob le Flambeur (1955) was re-released in theaters in late 2001, while another Melville, Le Cercle Rouge (1970), is slated to play at the Castro in May. And Le Samourai (1967) is now a staple in certain theaters and has begun to show up on lists of the greatest films ever made. Not to mention that the new remake itself will no doubt spark interest -- and probably even worship -- in the original.

So it's a great surprise that The Good Thief actually works, leaving Melville behind and giving us the vibrant, exciting work of another interesting director, Neil Jordan. Throughout his career, Jordan has made films based on sharp writing and brought to fruition by inventive directing.

His Mona Lisa (1986) was a brilliant, character-driven crime picture, set in the seediest of locales, and his The Butcher Boy (1998) was a bleakly hilarious blast of a coming-of-age flick, featuring Eamonn Owens in one of the most remarkable performances ever committed to celluloid. Now Jordan combines those two films to come up with another crime film with a potent atmosphere and another all-time great performance, this time by Nick Nolte.

Nolte plays Bob the gambler, an American living in Nice who looks and sounds like 20 miles of bad road. He's addicted to drugs and shambles around croaking about philosophy ... or simply spinning a few crazy yarns about his miserable life. But when Bob hears about a potential heist he cleans up his act.

He learns that a safe in a nearby casino contains a huge pile of loot, but that it's impenetrable -- an impossible job. So he decides to use the safe as a cover job to instead steal a collection of valuable paintings. Bob assembles a team of bizarre supporting players, including a teen prostitute, Anne (Nutsa Kukhanidze from 2000's 27 Missing Kisses), whom Bob is not interested in sleeping with so much as he is in getting her started on a different kind of life.

Tch�ky Karyo (from The Core and Jet Li's Kiss of the Dragon) plays a local cop who has been on Bob's trail for so long that they've become friends. And film director Emir Kusturica (Underground, Black Cat, White Cat) plays an inventor with a rock 'n' roll attitude who helps Bob and his team get past the security system.

Jordan washes this story in atmosphere-drenched alleyways, clubs and casinos, punctuated with little New Wave-ish moments like freeze-frames and jump-cuts -- and Nolte growling his way through it all like a grizzly bear in a colored paper factory.

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