Friday, April 11, 2003

The Good Thief (IMDB) (Netflix)
Nick Nolte is the title character, Bob, a washed-up junkie with a gambling habit (no, this isn't Nolte's life story). After losing big at the track, he's seduced by the opportunity for a big score in Monte Carlo, and befriends an oh-so-precocious girl of loose morals (introducing the devastating Nutsa Kukhianidze). It's a complicated scam, with a multitude of feints and misdirection thrown at the cops, who seem to be more interested in preventing the heist than putting Nolte in jail because, you see, he may be a crook, but they've grown accustomed to his craggy face. Think "Ocean's Eleven: The Noir."

And a stylish and stylized one it is, acknowledging the genre without being formulaic, juiced with plenty of snappy throwaway dialogue. Kukhianidze's lines are wise too far beyond her years, but she's got a presence that almost pulls them off. Director Neil Jordan, best known for The Crying Game, has remade Bob Le Flambeur as a Hollywood feel-good piece disguised under a gritty, sensual shell. There's no small amount of deus ex machina in the plotting, but done with enough humor that you really don't mind, and the score bounces things along (the Leonard Cohen songs evoke a Nolte-with-voice-lessons feel). Fellow watcher Janet says "competent," I say "lotta fun."