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No Crying in This Game

Nick Nolte a Solidifying Force in ‘The Good Thief’

By Jed Horne

Staff Writer

The Good Thief

Written and Directed by Neil Jordan

Starring Nick Nolte, Nutsa Kukhianidze, Said Taghmaoui, Marc Lavoine, and Tcheky Karyo

Rated R for sexuality, some language, and drug content

I’ll admit I was a little apprehensive about The Good Thief. I usually find Nick Nolte smug and obnoxious, and Neil Jordan, the director, is famous for The Crying Game, a movie that wouldn’t be famous if it weren’t gimmicky, and I hate gimmicky movies. But I’ve been wrong before, and I’m glad I didn’t get it right this time. The Good Thief, unlike our little adventure in the Middle East, proves you don’t have to shock to awe. The result is a low-key, sophisticated drama as entertaining as it is thoughtful.

Nick Nolte stars as Bob Montagnet, a petty gambler, heroin addict, and reformed thief living in Southern France. Just under the watchful eye of friend/parole officer Roger (Tcheky Karyo), Bob hatches the plot of a lifetime: a multimillion dollar art heist at the Casino Riviera in Monte Carlo. To pull it off, he goes cold turkey, quits gambling, and enlists a crew of low-lifes and underworld types, including a prostitute (Nutsa Kukhianidze) saved from an abusive pimp (Marc Lavoine), a transsexual, two identical twins, and an assortment of Arabs on the run from immigration.

Those of you expecting Crying Game-style bombast from Neil Jordan -- anyone who remembers the scene from that movie will know what I’m talking about -- will be disappointed. Nick Nolte is low-key and smooth, and not in his usual obnoxious, pretentious way (cf. The Prince of Tides).

Bob’s sophistication, raspy junk-edged sense of humor and uncanny luck doesn’t grate the way the Nolte of ten years ago would have. Instead, his presence is reassuring, a rock in an otherwise chaotic world of miscreants and low-lifes even if his mumbling is a little difficult to understand at times. True, there is the transsexual (Sarah Bridges) but her (his?) camp appeal is wisely limited to a couple of jokes.

French singer/songwriter Marc Lavoine is eerily menacing as Remi the pimp, and Tcheky Karyo does an admirable job as Roger the cop, Bob’s alter ego, a co-dependent police officer as mindful of Bob as he is in awe of him. Since I had trouble following the twists and turns of the plot, I won’t even try to give away what happens. But it’s sort of beside the point, as this film is about the aesthetic.

A jazzy soundtrack, inventive stop-action photography, and an off-color sense of humor are what keep it alive. The characters serve to feed the film’s mood rather than advance their own interests. I found myself rooting for Nolte’s anti-hero even when I wasn’t quite sure what was going on, and sympathizing with Remi even at his scummiest.

As the film’s title suggests, there ain’t no bad guys in this one. There were a few moments when I was a little irritated at myself for liking the movie so much. Nolte’s off-hand references to pop-mathematics eventually get sort of annoying. While mostly successful, some of the cinematography is a little overboard. Almost everyone in the movie has a different accent, and it’s a little tough to understand what’s going on. But flaws are easy to overlook when you’re having so much fun.