Doubles: Pleasures multiply in Good Thief
For those of us who liked The Truth about Charlie– OK, both of us– here's another trip back to France in the mid-20th century, updated to a tense present.
The Good Thief is a character study in the guise of a heist movie, or vice versa. It's based on Jean-Pierre Melville's 1955 Bob le Flambeur but will strike contemporary filmgoers as an arthouse version of Ocean's Eleven.
This new edition couldn't be better tailored to Nick Nolte. After seeing The Good Thief I would believe his recent legal problems that have turned his name into a punchline were just an elaborate stunt to promote the movie.
Bob Montagnet, sometimes called Bob Montana, was the war child of an American paratrooper and a Frenchwoman. He holds dual citizenship, but his home and his criminal record are in France. His best friend is a cop, Roger (Tcheky Karyo), who has busted him several times and is trying to avoid having to do it again.
Bob is addicted to heroin and gambling, which have taken their toll on his body and his fortune. Sometimes– and this is one of those times– he has nothing but a painting he claims to have won from Pablo Picasso in a bet over a bullfight.
For such a tough guy, Bob has a soft side, and it's touched by Anne (Nutsa Kukhianidze), a 17-year-old lost soul recently arrived on the Riviera from Russia. Bob gets her out of the clutches of Remi (Marc Lavoine), a local pimp, and hooks her up with his friend Paulo (Said Taghmaoui), although she'd rather be with Bob.
Raoul (Gerard Darmon) proposes a robbery to Bob. The renovated, now Japanese-owned Casino Riviera has an impregnable safe, but the real potential score is the art collection that graces its walls– not the copies that hang in the casino, but the originals kept in a nearby vault.
The idea is to pretend to be planning to rob the casino and to have a "Judas" report it to the police, so while they're protecting the casino, the real robbery of the real paintings can be carried off without incident. To ensure the success of the venture, Bob gets clean: "No more gambling, no more dope 'til we've pulled this off." He handcuffs himself to his bed and lets Anne taunt him, which she does sexily, but not give him the key.
So you've got a movie with two genres, well written and directed by Neil Jordan, about a man with two names and nationalities who has two addictions and plans a double robbery to steal paintings that have doppelgangers.
The duality theme continues as Bob recruits Philippa (Sarah Bridges), a bodybuilder who used to be Philip (she says she's "still the same bad motherfucker" who can bench press 400 pounds, but the operation left her with a fear of spiders); and takes on twin volunteers (Mark and Mike Polish), one of whom works as a security guard at the casino.
Also assisting is Vladimer (Emir Kusturica), who designed the security system for the vault where the paintings are kept and is an avocational rock guitarist.
Even the title merits two references. Bob speaks of Picasso as the greatest thief of all because he "stole from everybody" and later compares himself (unfavorably) to the "good thief" who was crucified with Jesus.
The dialogue is often mumbled, but I doubt that we're missing much. Nolte's face says more than words ever could, and Chris Menges' photography makes the film very visual, showing more of the seedy and gaudy sides of the Riviera than the glamour we're used to seeing.
Despite all the duality on display there are no two ways about it: "The Good Thief" is a good movie.