Saturday, July 31, 2010
The Italian Job -- trust, betrayal and identity
Director: F. Gary Gray, 2003. (PG-13)
The Italian Job was originally a British film from the 60s starring Michael Caine (Sleuth) and featuring English TV comic Benny Hill. Set in Turin, its highlight was a traffic jam and three Mini Coopers maneuvering through the log-jammed streets. Gray's version is not so much a remake as a redo, a new movie inspired by its former namesake. All it has in common are the Minis and the jam.
The film opens in Venice as a theft is underway: of $35M of gold bullion. Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg) is leading the gang for the first time, having taken over the reins from John Bridger (Donald Pleasance), recent-parolee and safe-cracker extraordinaire. Rounding out the crew are computer hacker Lyle (Seth Green), wheel man Handsome Rob (Jason Statham), explosives expert Left-Ear (Mos Def) and inside-man Steve (Edward Norton). The plan is perfect, the execution flawless, and the getaway fast and furious. All seems a success, until Steve double-crosses them and takes it all for himself, killing one and leaving the rest for dead.
Having introduced the plot in Italy, The Italian Job leaves Europe and moves to Los Angeles for the final two acts. It's a year later, and Charlie's pursuit of Steve is rewarded. He has found him living under a new name with the profits of their heist. Pulling his team together, Charlie sets out to rob the robber. But he needs another safe-cracker, and he brings in Stella Bridger (Charlize Theron), John's daughter. She is as good as her dad, but an honest women, having experienced the consequences of the criminal lifestyle: the separation from her father during his prison stints.
The new "Italian job" is no longer about the payoff, it's about the payback. Money is immaterial, although a pleasant side-effect. Charlie wants revenge. So does Stella, and this is the only reason she would turn her back on integrity and turn to crime.
This new version is a lightweight summer flick that has a reasonable plot, some terrific chases, and mostly workmanlike acting from a well-rounded cast of big-name actors. Indeed, the two leads, Wahlberg and Norton, seem uninspired. Norton is going through the motions. This was not a movie he wanted to make, but was contractually obligated to Paramount for a three movie deal and was forced into this role (Primal Fear, his breakthrough film was the first). It's not as memorable as the original, but certainly a fun mini-ride with enough suspense to keep us watching to the finale.
The Italian Job is not simply a caper movie; it is a revenge for broken trust film. In a scene where Stella is having dinner with Steve, reluctantly but to aid the team, he asks her, "Still don't trust me?" She replies, "I trust everyone. It's the devil inside them I don't trust." Trust is an issue for Stella as much as it is for Charlie. Her father had let her down too many times with empty promises. Steve had betrayed Charlie's trust.
Trust is something earned. It is built over time. When we do what we say, as we walk our talk, our credibility is created. This is part of our character, and something we need to cultivate. Yet it takes only a moment and a single action to destroy years of trust. As Steve's actions in Venice demonstrated, trust lost is hard to be regained. Two thousand years ago, one of Jesus' twelve closest friends had built a similar trust with him (Matt. 10:1, 4). Yet, a moment of action in the garden and Judas betrayed Jesus to the authorities (Matt. 26:47-49)). That betrayal destroyed their trust-relationship resulted in Jesus' crucifixion and led to Judas' suicide (Matt. 27:5). Betrayal is a damning thing.
The Italian Job is not a deep film, but its dialog offers fruit for reflection. The line, "It's the devil inside them I don't trust" is repeated and proves pivotal in the plot-development. Stella's philosophy, demonstrated in this statement, is that human nature itself is good and trustworthy, but people may allow Satan to influence or even possess them. The lies and deceptions that eat at the heart of trust are the product of the devil, not the person. But this is errant theology.
Biblically, human nature has become corrupted by the fall, the original sin in the garden (Gen. 3:6). Now we don't need the devil to enable us to lie; our depraved nature can do it all by itself, thank you very much. There is still some goodness, a product of the imago dei present (1 Cor. 11:7), without which any trust would be impossible, yet our inherent nature is selfish and protective. We tend toward betrayal. But for the grace of God, Steve or Judas could be us. But by following Jesus, we are redeemed and given a new nature (2 Cor. 5:17), one that allows trust over betrayal.
As a caper movie, we pull for the criminal, though we know he is likely a violent sociopath. Early on, John Bridger gives Charlie some "sage" advice, criminal to criminal: "Charlie, there are two kinds of thieves in this world: the ones who steal to enrich their lives, and those who steal to define their lives. Don't be the latter. Makes you miss out on what's really important in this life." Obviously, most of us don't endorse crime, and would not want to resonate with the thieves here. But if we look at what they are as thieves we can see their stealing as work and modify the statement.
When we do this we see the truth in Bridger's point. We can work to enrich our lives or we can work to define our lives. Many people see work as self-defining. When asked about themselves, who they are, they respond with what they do, their work. They are defined by their job. "I am an engineer," as opposed to "I work as an engineer". The former is complete, my self-identity is found in my work. The second is incomplete, it does not tell others who I am. That is correct, because I am more than my job. If I lose it next week, I will remain the same person, though unemployed. My identity is found in my relationships. My true identity is based on my trust relationship with Jesus. By faith in Christ I am a son of God (Gal. 3:26) and a member of his family (Jn. 1:12). That will never change. Almost everything else will change, including job loss or retirement, betrayal by friends, family or coworkers, but Jesus will remain unchangeable (Heb. 13:8), an anchor for our soul (Heb. 6:19).
Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs
at 7:00 AM