Neil Jordan’s Thief intertwines bad luck and good fortune in heist tale
The Good Thief is a gaudy, cheerfully paradoxical mélange—a film noir that holds its pessimism at arm’s length, an art film that insists on entertaining and amusing, a remake that reinvents as much as it copies, an English-language movie with French settings, an American star, an Irish director, a Russian ingénue and a world music score that veers between jazz and hip-hop.
The star (Nick Nolte) plays Bob, a gambler and thief, part American and part French, who decides to kick his drug habit so he can lead a blockbuster heist on a casino. The gruffly noble gambler, the convoluted casino caper, the Franco-American mixtures, and most of the secondary characters are drawn from a cultish classic of French film, Jean-Pierre Melville’s Bob le Flambeur (1955), but Nolte and writer-director Neil Jordan give it all a somewhat more contemporary kind of swagger.
As in the original, bad luck and good fortune are weirdly and intriguingly intertwined. And the key secondary characters again include a precociously worldly young hooker (Nutsa Kukhianidze) and a mother-hen of a vigilant cop (Tcheky Karyo), whose debt of honor to Bob makes him more protector than antagonist.
Melville’s original draws some of its special appeal from its setting—post-war Montmartre night-life—and from an almost chivalric playfulness among its underworld heroes. Jordan’s version labors through a more portentous playfulness, not least in the somewhat rambunctious biblical allusions of its title concept.
Jordan lacks Melville’s light, stoical touch with noir materials, and that makes the more romantic aspects of the story somewhat less persuasive in The Good Thief. Having the twin brothers, Mark and Michael Polish, play duplicitous security guards is an amusing addition to the tale, but their assumed Irish accents hint at a certain ponderousness in Jordan’s whimsy.