Ageing crook Brian Reader (Michael Caine) is tempted back for one last job by a sad-sack electronics wiz (Charlie Cox) in this heist film starring a posse of venerable British actors. He sets about reuniting old muckers (Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Ray Winstone and Paul Whitehouse) for a crack at the vault in London’s diamond hub Hatton Garden, which is due to be left unguarded over a bank holiday weekend. It’d seem far-fetched if it wasn’t all true.
While the set-up moves with all the wild abandon of a faulty Stairmaster, these old pros combine about 250 years of screen acting experience (as one on-the-nose flashback reminds us) and they just about keep things moving towards the film’s central crime. The heist itself is no slick ‘Ocean’s’ job – improbably, the crew bugger off home in the middle of it when one of their tools breaks (again, all factual) – but from there, ‘King of Thieves’ develops a crackle of nastiness as the crew slowly turn on each other.
Director James Marsh finds neat contrasts between the wordlessly professional cops on the case and the gobby robbers spilling jewels and secrets as their paranoia takes a grip. Michael Gambon breaks the tension as a dozy fence with a leaky bladder, but Broadbent’s proper psy-caaa-path cranks it up again, with Winstone offering mean-eyed support. There’s an odd delight in watching these screen legends shouting ‘faaack!’ at each other for half an hour, and the pay-off is satisfyingly gritty.