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Exuding lots of atmosphere, The Good Thief is a casually-paced heist flick that makes the most of its surroundings, Nice and Monte Carlo. The story has its moments, but unfortunately it can’t live up to the grandeur of the setting.

Bob the Gambler

The rising and fading stars of The Good Thief
The rising and fading stars of The Good Thief

A loose remake of 1955’s Bob Le Flambeur, this version tells the tale of Bob Montagnet (Nick Nolte, Affliction), a down-on-his-luck ex-pat and art thief who’s retired from the heist business and picked up heroin and gambling habits to fill the void.

When the opportunity to haul off a load of art by the likes of Picasso and Van Gogh comes his way, Bob finds a reason to reform and handcuffs himself to his own bed, throws the key across the room, and hangs on for dear life in an effort to kick his drug addiction.

They say there’s somebody out there for everybody and even incoherent Bob, while hanging out at the nightclubs, still holds some appeal for the ladies. Or, at least to a 17-year-old Russian prostitute named Anne (Nutsa Kukhianidze).

Anne likes this man with a continuously changing past, a man who’s a smooth talker and a big talker, at least when he’s clearly enunciating his words. An on-the-level kind of guy (for a thief, con and drug addict), Bob sees Anne as nothing more than a lost child and rebuffs her advances. He’s a man on a mission: To make off with the Casino Riviera’s stash of prized art and live the high life once again.

That’s Life

In real life, Nolte has had his share of ups and downs, and even Bob’s mug shot is no match for Nolte’s embarrassingly disheveled appearance in the police station last year; Nolte’s mug became so notorious it even made it onto this year’s Oscars during one of Steve Martin’s satiric bits.

His own rough life now catching up with him, Nolte mumbles a lot of his lines. He has a low, raspy voice, ideal for a washed up druggie, but at times it can be a strain to understand what he’s saying and after a while Nolte’s performance becomes surprisingly annoying. It’s such a low-fi performance, it might best be appreciated in the friendly confines of home when the movie makes its way to DVD.

The rest of the cast is quite good and Kukhianidze in particular has the makings of a rising star. Featuring an international ensemble of actors from places as diverse as Bosnia, Georgia (formerly of the Soviet Union, not the USA), France and Ireland, the cast also includes Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient) in a minor role as a thug.

Tied in with the rich surroundings of France and Monaco, the collection of various accents adds to the film’s seductive feel and tone. The theme of seduction plays throughout, whether it’s the enticement of drugs, sex, gambling, nightclubs, music or art.

Montagnet’s 11

As written and directed by Neil Jordan, the man behind better movies like Michael Collins and The Crying Game, the story itself becomes almost inconsequential in the midst of so much atmosphere.

Bob collects a ragtag group of cons and thieves to help him with his grand heist, but it feels like a poor man’s Ocean’s 11, with pretty people like Frank Sinatra and George Clooney replaced by the rough-and-tumble Nolte and a haggard, unshaven collection of underworld denizens.

One of the film’s biggest misfires is a running joke about Philippa, a muscle builder formerly known as Philip (played by Sarah Bridges in her film debut). The big girl/boy has a paralyzing fear of spiders that winds up playing a major role in the story’s development.

Nonetheless, the film manages to recover from its misguided tangents and finds the right note upon which to end. It’s one that seeps in, making for a smile long after the end credits roll.

You’re up in April, shot down in May, but you’ll be back on top in June.

Yeah. That’s life.