Slick, amusing caper film; Gray's best movie featuring Davis' best soundtrack7/10
My reaction to this remake of "The Italian Job" is probably hopelessly mixed up with the events occurring in my life when I saw it; This is the first movie I saw after I had just landed a job after 8 months of unemployment and going back to school for retraining. Money was still tight, but I no longer had to choose between seeing a movie in the theaters and paying bills (or eating lunch), and the sense of relief and gratitude I was feeling at the time was enormous. In consequence, my enjoyment of "Italian Job" was probably far out of proportion to its actual worth.
Still, I picked it up used on DVD a few weeks ago and watched it again, and I still enjoyed it immensely. I have never seen the original (though I have heard it is an absolute classic), but its modern day counterpart is eminently watchable if you have a taste for modern day production values applied to older films plots and themes.
What initially won me over to this movie was the soundtrack - IMO Don Davis writes some of the most supple, textured and aurally pleasing soundtracks around. IJ opens with a sly, witty, pulsing arrangement that combines strings, guitar harmonics, brush work and quiet moments - it won me over completely from the opening seconds. And the whole movie is like this - I haven't heard this kind of ringing, chiming, pulsing soundtrack music since Stewart Copeland left the Police and started doing soundtracks for movies like "Rumble Fish". There are at least a dozen irresistibly scored motifs in here, along with some pop song remakes that range from "all right" to "inspired". For people to whom the soundtrack is important, this movie is a delight.
On to the movie: I can take or leave Mark Wahlberg, but he's okay here as the leading man, and the movie doesn't ask him to do anything he can't do well. He's the weakest "major" actor in the film, but that's because the rest of supporting cast is so strong, especially Donald Sutherland in a bit part. Mos Def, Jason Steadham, Ed Norton, Seth Green and Charlize Theron all turn in solid, fat-free performances. Norton seems to mostly be phoning it in (rumor has it that he didn't really want to be in the film), but he's still a natural even at 1/2 power. My one quibble with the casting and acting is with the character "Wrench", who seems to be a male model pretending to be an actor. His part seems to be shoehorned into the movie, and he has little chemistry with the rest of the cast (although you can blame some of that on the size of the part and the "late walk on" nature of the character). If I were a cynical sort,I would wonder who the actor slept with to get put into this movie in such a supernumerary role? Nah, never happen...
Production values, camera work, stunts, plot...everything cooks along quite nicely and Gray and his production crew pull things together pretty seamlessly (with the exception of the "Wrench" character, see above).
The dialog has a nice, light touch that rewards your indulgence, and there are several satisfying major and minor plot payoffs along the way. (My favorite moment - when Norton's character tells Wahlberg's character that he's just lost the element of surprise. Wahlberg proceeds to cold cock Norton with a right cross, and then asks him, "Were you surprised??" Hmmm, maybe you had to be there...)
Of course the movie requires a certain level of "suspension of disbelief" to work, but if you just relax and go along with it (and don't think too hard about the mechanics of cracking a safe underwater, or the likelihood of anyone being able to successfully hack and manipulate LA traffic via a laptop, etc), you'll have a fun ride.
"The Italian Job": it's lightweight summer fluff, but it's very good for what it is, and it doesn't try to be anything else. It isn't good enough for an "8" but I'd give it a "7.5".