The Good Thief Neil Jordan
Published Apr 01, 2003Neil Jordan's The Good Thief takes place within the thrumming nightlife of the south of France, all neon lit bars and smoky backrooms. Nick Nolte plays an American gambler and thief named Bob, and although we're told he's a heroin addict who's on a serious losing streak, we don't exactly see his desperation at first (Nolte does his best to internalise it), and no loan sharks are lurking in the shadows waiting to break his thumbs. Just like its source, Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob le Flambeur, this isn't so much a crime film as it is a story of personal regeneration. Jordan is clearly an admirer of Melville (as are Tarantino and Woo), but even though this is a fairly smart and sophisticated remake, he still comes pretty close to screwing things up at times. He throws in some hoary religious metaphors, some clumsy storytelling (especially when he gives away the dramatic payoff to the heist scene), and the aforementioned heroin habit seems airlifted in just to jack-up the dramatic stakes.
Nolte is good and bedraggled in his role it's not his best performance but he comes up with some cool riffs along the way (he manages to translate Jordan's self-consciously clever dialogue into a workman-like method performance). Newcomer Nutsa Kukhianidze (remember that name) is a stunning counterpoint as Anne, a willowy 17-year-old wise beyond her years, with a voice that's both nasal and sultry. She exhales blue neon smoke when she reclines with a cigarette. Nolte's bruised, hulking screen presence couldn't be more of a physical contrast when Anne tells him he looks good for his age, she qualifies her statement with, "Y'know the stone age." The strange thing is that these two make an incredibly simpatico duo at times he's the mentor/father and at other times she takes care of him. She's a slumming good luck charm in a Dorothy Hamill haircut.
I don't know if this movie is an accurate representation of the gambling community in Monte Carlo and Nice, but it's dense and teeming with life (the cast is like a model UN). Tcheky Karyo plays Bob's nemesis, a cop with whom he plays a friendly cat and mouse game, and Ralph Fiennes proves he's better in small doses his cameo as a menacing art dealer is a jolt of adrenaline. These disparate actors all have great chemistry together and I'm inclined to forgive a lot of the problems with this movie because it's such an organic thing. For all its faults, this is a remake that feels remarkably original. It lives and breathes the way few movies do, and it's not just breathing Melville's second hand smoke. (Alliance Atlantis)