Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Review: "The First Great Train Robbery" (1979)

As with most couples, the movie tastes of Mrs. Mosley and myself vary greatly. It has been a weekly challenge to find films that I think she will be interested in. Occasionally, I will venture from the tried and true genre of romantic comedies in order to present her with something different. So, in considering the films I already know she likes, I'll take Sean Connery from "The Hunt for Red October", exciting heists from "Ocean's 11" and a British period setting from "Sense and Sensibility". I'm proud to say this combination worked perfectly.

Written and directed by Michael Crichton, "The First Great Train Robbery" is an incredibly fun adventure and heist film. Set in Victorian England, Sean Connery plays a high class thief who wishes to steal a gold shipment off of a moving train. For this effort, he recruits the woman he loves (Lesley-Anne Down), a master pickpocket and key forger (Donald Sutherland) and an escape artist (Wayne Sleep). With his team set, he goes about stealing the keys to the vault and then figuring out how to get to it once the train is in motion. There are many complications, but none are too difficult for good old Sean.

Like the recent version of "Ocean's 11", these people may be rogues, but they're damn charming rogues. The details of the robbery are always interesting and just this side of believable, but it's the people pulling it off we are really interested in. Connery, who with this role continued in his successful bid of shedding his 007 image, became a character similar to Bond but with less scruples. Down does well with her sex kitten role. And Donald Sutherland, who seems to be everywhere these days, has great chemistry with Connery as they argue and scheme.

Connery exemplifies the cool-under-pressure ringleader that Clooney also did so well in "Ocean's 11". There is a scene where Sutherland, exasperated by the extra security recently added to the train, gives a tirade about how the whole heist is now ruined and asks what Connery's character is bloody well going to do about it. His simple, one sentence answer is definitely not what you would expect. Needless to say, his solution works. You'll just have to see it to find out what it is.

I mentioned how the mechanics of the heist are believable enough, and this is remarkable as most films of this type have at least one element that doesn't make sense (i.e. the flyers in "Ocean's 11", the final missing painting in "Thomas Crown Affair"). However, one of the crew does get caught by the police at the end. The reason he's caught is somewhat odd. Unless the chief copper who spotted him had a Ashcroftian level of suspiciousness, there would be no practical reason for him to be suspected. There is a further twist after he is caught that is also far fetched, but these are minor quibbles in such an airtight film.

This film is downright fun, and one that is easily enjoyed in repeated viewings. Settle down on the couch with your loved one and bowl of popcorn and give it a try.

Eight out of Ten

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