Published Dec 01, 2002Is there really anything cooler than Nick Nolte walking along the banks of the Seine river after a night of bar-hopping and fighting, sucking on a Marlboro Red while Leonard Cohen's melancholy baritone serenades the faint neon lights of an early Parisian morning? In Neil Jordan's stylish heist movie The Good Thief, Nolte pulls off the next-to-impossible: emanating ultimate cool and pathetic desperation at the exact same time. It's what he does better than any other actor, either half his age or his own, and the reason why he's still a viable leading man after all these years. Sam Montagnet (Nolte) may be math-obsessed weirdo, but he still has a way with the ladies. The only problem is, he's a junkie. Sam is such a slave to the poppy sludge, in fact, that he would rather get a fix than have a tryst with a lithe 17-year-old Eastern European beauty named Anne. He's a compulsive gambler, and, judging by the state of his run-down flat, he hasn't had a run of good luck with the ponies lately. He's also a bit of a pathological liar. Oh, and one more thing. He's a thief. Rather, he's a reformed thief, but still a notorious one. "I'm out of dope and I'm out of luck," he reasons. "But I don't want to die in an old folks home. Not a prison one." But the lure of potential millions stashed away in a Monte Carlo casino is too much for Sam. He handcuffs himself to his bedpost, so he can kick heroin and have his wits about him, and accepts the challenge of the proverbial "one last job." Sam gathers together his usual "heist guys," including a muscular man who is now a transsexual (in the only gag of the movie that falls flat, so to speak) and a Russian security expert named Vlad, who desperately wants to be a rock star. While the French police catch the scent of their scheme, the guys set out to rip off hundreds of millions of dollars worth of impressionist and cubist art from the Casino Riviera. The Good Thief, a remake of John-Pierre Melville's 1955 original Bob le flambeur, is an inconsequential yet thoroughly delectable detour into the cobblestone back streets of hookers, dealers, gamblers and other rogues that we all wish we could hang around without getting our hair mussed. It offers heaps more style and intrigue than a failed hardboiled caper flick like Mamet's disappointing Heist or Frank Oz's downright boring The Score. As well, its cool seems thankfully organic, which isn't the case with last year's amusing yet strained postmodern kitsch-fest, Ocean's Eleven, a much more high-profile remake by Steven Soderbergh. As Jordan's filmmaking efforts go, The Good Thief falls somewhere in the grey morass between his brilliant work in The Crying Game and The End of the Affair, and the dreck of Interview with the Vampire and In Dreams. Nolte certainly looks like he's having a good time. He delivers his lines more dryly than James Bond sucking on a lemon. Ralph Fiennes makes a brief, out of character turn as a shady art dealer, and the rest of the cast seems equally game. The only major objection I had to The Good Thief was the creepy sight of a not-quite-jailbait Anne hanging off Nolte's shoulder in a sequined gown while he cleans up at the blackjack table. I mean, Sam Montagnet may be the coolest character in town, but he's closer to that old folk's home in prison than he thinks.