The Good Thief 

(R) 3 1/2 stars

(R) 3 1/2 stars
Neil Jordan’s shabby-chic, moody new film The Good Thief is a loose remake of the classic 1955 French heist movie Bob le Flambeur, but it makes more sense to talk about The Good Thief in the context of Breathless, the New Wave landmark heavily influenced by Bob le Flambeur. In The Good Thief, Nick Nolte — like Breathless’ Jean-Paul Belmondo riffing on Bogart, and Bogart himself — is magnetically captivating, despite, or perhaps owing to, his shambolic, wounded hulk of a body, his gravelly voice and a face that seems to grow craggier from one scene to the next. Playing the character of Bob Montagnet, Nolte’s art imitates his life to an unsettling and fascinating degree; like Nolte, Bob is a preternaturally talented drug addict down on his luck. Bob stumbles in a drug haze through the seedy back streets of Nice, mixing with the city’s underground of criminal expatriates, where he rescues a young Bosnian woman, Anne (newcomer and Jean Seberg dead-ringer Nutsa Kukhianidze), from her pimp. “You’ll always have a home with me,” he growls. Anne tries her best to seduce Bob, but at his insistence, their relationship remains non-sexual, and she instead ends up with Bob’s volatile protégé Paolo (Saïd Taghmaoui). Having gambled away his last few francs at the horse track, Bob is determined to get clean, so he chains himself to his bed with a bucket and a supply of ice cream. Once his head clears, Bob assembles his old gang to pull of one last, outlandish heist: stealing a collection of priceless modern art from a Monte Carlo casino, which hangs fakes of the paintings on its walls and stores the originals in a fortress-like vault nearby. With the help of the Russian engineer who designed the vault, Bob devises an intricate plan involving a red herring second heist, a deliberate betrayal, a pair of twins and one very tough transgender bodybuilder. The best part is that Bob gets to keep his own hands clean — during the robbery, he’ll be upstairs with Anne, gambling away and dressed to the nines in Armani. Of course, this wouldn’t be a good heist movie if the heist actually went off according to plan. It all goes horribly wrong, except that Bob’s luck suddenly returns, and when it does, the years seem to fall away from Nolte’s heavy shoulders. The Good Thief is very much a movie about theft and duplicity — Neil Jordan steals widely from French classics of the genre to craft the first literate, cool and truly satisfying crime film since The Limey; Bob’s own prized Picasso is a fake; Picasso himself stole from countless other painters — but when Bob wins, he does so honestly. He is not, in the end, good at theft, but like Picasso, he is a good thief in the best sense of the word — and what he has stolen back, ultimately, (both Bob and Nolte himself) is his own dignity.

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