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The original Italian Job is today widely considered as a national treasure. This quintessentially British film had it all – unforgettable characters, witty one-liners and of course the tiny car that oozed masses of personality: the Mini Cooper. Naturally, when news of a Hollywood remake began filtering out, it was met with nothing but contempt. How could they possibly dabble with something that to this day remains so fondly in our hearts? Obviously, Paramount insisted that this would be a fresh take on the original Italian Job formula, but as rumours crept out about actors being forced into their roles – things weren’t looking too good. Still, the film was to be directed by The Negotiator’s F. Gary Gray and therefore I was willing to give it a chance. But was I right to? Well, strap yourself in as it’s time to find out…

Italian Job, The (2003)
Movie
Mark Wahlberg plays heist extraordinaire Charlie Croker, a man that prides himself in his precise planning and ruthless execution. Much of this is accredited to his friend and mentor John Bridger played by the superb Donald Sutherland. After several long stints in prison, Bridger sees Croker as the perfect man to take the reigns, and a job in the beautiful city of Venice is the ideal place for the baton to be passed.  Joining them on this daring new heist will be the combined talents of Handsome Rob played by Jason Statham, Lyle played by Seth Green, Left Ear played by rap star Mos Def and finally Steve Frezelli played by the ever menacing Edward Norton. Once more, the plan was flawless, and the execution was near perfect. The one thing that they didn’t plan on was being double-crossed by one of their own. Now Croker and the team get together with drop-dead gorgeous safecracker Stella Bridger and take off to re-steal the loot. What follows is a frantic pedal to the metal chase that will take them up, down, above and below the streets of sunny Los Angeles. It’s no longer about the gold; they want payback…

It’s safe to say that my expectations weren’t set particularly high for this remake. Pretty much everything was going against it. For starters the film is based on the original Michael Caine classic, which delivered some of the most spectacular car chases ever filmed. Secondly, the film stars Mark Wahlberg, a rather uncharismatic actor that had already taken part in the particularly bad reworking of Planet of the Apes.  Then of course you have all the pre-release drama regarding Edward Norton. Apparently, the actor was contractually obligated to take part in three films for Paramount; the first of these was of course Primal Fear, which established him as the great leading man that he is known as today. The other film was the Frank Oz directed The Score in which Norton starred alongside Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando. Anyway, to cut a long story short, Norton turned down a number of other Paramount scripts until eventually Paramount forced him to take a role in The Italian Job. The only other alternative would have been a lengthy court battle and so grudgingly Norton accepted.  So everything would point at a bad film then? Surprisingly not. Against all the odds, director F. Gary Gray has managed to craft a suitably entertaining ride that has at least temporarily laid the long-standing remake curse to rest.

Italian Job, The (2003)
Naturally, a film based on The Italian Job has quite a lot to live up to when it comes to action sequences. Although the chases aren’t nearly as adventurous as those of the original, they are nearly always superbly paced and edited. The opening scenes in Venice are suitably entertaining, with a boat chase reminiscent of the one from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Apparently, this is the first time that the Venice authorities have let a film crew over the speed limits in years. After watching this sequence, I imagine it will be quite a few more years until they allow it again! Luckily though, the film has a lot more going for it than a few impressive chases. Right from the start, the film exhumes a certain class, very similar to that of Steven Soderbergh’s Oceans Eleven. Helping to achieve that is some solid direction and a pretty catchy soundtrack that includes a cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’ by Velvet Revolver and a wonderfully active score by the frequently impressive John Powell.

The Italian Job features a pretty eclectic mix of character actors, all of whom add a great deal of credibility to the film. For starters we have Mark Wahlberg as the leading man. I’ve never been particularly impressed with Wahlberg as an actor but here lies a performance that he should be reasonably proud of. Admittedly, the role of Charlie Croker isn’t a particularly challenging one, but nonetheless he does manage to convince as a man capable of leading such a rowdy bunch of criminals! Stealing the show though are the supporting cast of Jason Statham, Seth Green and Mos Def. These guys have the task of bringing the comedy element to the film, and for the most part it works extremely well. Seth Green as Lyle for example has a running joke regarding Napster. He insists that it was him that invented the file-swapping program, but his roommate stole it whilst he was napping - hence the name. Another great little scene has Green impersonating the cockney charm of Jason Statham – to hilarious effect! Finally, we have the villain of the piece played by Edward Norton. The character of Steve is a pretty one-dimensional one but as always Norton does manage to raise the bar. Obviously, we’re not looking at an American History X performance here, but nevertheless he’s suitably bad as bad man Steve Frezelli and he’s a pleasure to watch onscreen.

Italian Job, The (2003)
A pretty entertaining film then, but far from a perfect one. For starters the film does get unnecessarily complicated in the latter half of the picture. A whole bunch of new characters are introduced and they serve very little purpose other than to support the disappointingly predictable conclusion. The film also makes use of a few flashback sequences to establish the main characters early on. Unfortunately, the flashbacks themselves are pretty cringe worthy and don’t really hit the mark comedy wise. Still, despite all of its flaws, nothing can really detract from this surprisingly fun ride. Recommended.

Video
I haven’t been able to fault a transfer by Paramount in quite some time and it doesn’t look set to change with The Italian Job. The film receives a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation and once again the print is practically flawless. The colours are bright and vivid and really bring to life the impressive cinematography by Wally Pfister. One of the scenes that sticks in my mind would be the great transition between Venice and the Alps. Here we get to see the transfer in all of its glory as the camera swoops between the snowy mountains, much like the memorable opening sequence of The Two Towers. Very impressive. The only slight fault with the transfer would be a small amount of edge enhancement although it’s certainly nothing to write home about. Overall, very nice indeed

Sound
The Italian Job is a pretty fun film and Paramount has included a pretty fun Dolby Digital 5.1 mix to boot. The disc also includes French Dolby Digital 5.1 and English Dolby Surround tracks, but for the purpose of this review I will just be looking at the English 5.1. Anyway, this track does all that is asked of it – which is actually quite a lot. The action sequences demand a consistently active track and that is what you get here. Although the majority of the scenes take place in the front of the soundstage, the track certainly isn’t afraid to zip across the surrounds when needed. My only complaint would be that the sound is often a little lower than I would have hoped. This could of course be more of a hardware issue than anything, but in any case, it’s nothing particularly noticeable or indeed distracting, so I can let Paramount off with this one. The clarity of voices is never in doubt, with everything as clear and concise as you could possibly want. The bass is also here in abundance, just you wait until you hear the helicopter roaring overhead! You’ll probably end up ducking – I know I did!

Italian Job, The (2003)
Extras
Most of Paramount’s recent releases have come with a director’s audio commentary and therefore I was somewhat surprised to see that one hasn’t been included here. What you do get though is a selection of featurettes and some deleted scenes. For starters we have a featurette entitled Pedal to the Metal: The Making of The Italian Job. This is the bulkiest of the features and runs to around eighteen minutes in total. This a pretty run of the mill making of feature, which begins by looking at the original film that inspired the remake. The feature also includes interviews with the cast and the producer, although most of the talking is by director F. Gary Gray. Not a bad feature then, although there’s far too much praise of the director for my liking! The next feature is called Putting the Words on the Page for The Italian Job. This is a short five-minute feature focusing on the job of screenwriters Donna & Wayne Powers. The two writers talk about a number of the challenges that they faced, as well as how they watched the Michael Caine film just the once so that they didn’t over analyse and essentially duplicate the original. Next up we have The Italian Job Driving School. I personally found this to be the most interesting feature on the disc, although it runs to only five minutes in total. Here we get to see the The Italian Job cast training for the plethora of stunts that they’ll be asked to do throughout the film. Plenty of behind the scenes footage is included as well as interviews with the cast and crew. It quickly becomes apparent that there’s more than a little competiveness between Charlize Theron and Jason Statham!

 The next batch of featurettes begins with The Mighty Minis of The Italian Job. This one focuses on the now legendary vehicle that we’ve all come to love. This feature includes interviews with the cast and crew, interspersed with behind the scenes and film footage. We learn that a total of thirty-two Minis were used for the film and how Mark Wahlberg actually chucked up whilst in the passenger seat with Charlize at the wheel. Poor Mark. This one runs to a little over five minute in total. The final featurette is called High Octane: Stunts from The Italian Job. As you would expect, this one looks at the impressive stunts littered throughout the film and runs to almost eight minutes in total. We learn that all of the stunts were shot practically, which is particularly impressive when you consider the clearance space above the helicopter in the concluding sequences.

Completing the package is a selection of deleted scenes as well as some trailers for other Paramount releases. A total of six deleted scenes have been included for your viewing pleasure, although how much pleasure you get out of them is probably dependent on how much alcohol you’ve consumed! As you’ve probably guessed - they aren’t particularly good. The first scene, which is entitled ‘Restaurant’ is a particularly cringe-worthy experience with a man hitting on Charlize Theron’s character in a bar. All of the scenes are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. Finally we have non-anamorphic trailers for The Italian Job, Timeline, The Cradle of Life, Indiana Jones and The Handler starring Joe Pantoliano.

Italian Job, The (2003)
Overall
The Italian Job is finally a remake that delivers. This slickly produced crime caper is littered with suitably entertaining performances, extremely well crafted action sequences and a solid soundtrack that blends everything together perfectly. The DVD is also well put together with yet another stellar transfer and Dolby Digital 5.1 experience. The extra material is slightly less impressive. The main shortfall would be the lack of an audio commentary of any kind. The film certainly isn’t anything to be embarrassed about, so why the director didn’t get involved is beyond me. The featurettes are a nice addition, although very rarely venture from the promotional fluff stereotype. Still, a fun little film is on offer here and I’d certainly welcome a decent follow-up with open arms! Apparently there’s one in the pipeline, so time will tell!


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