The heist movie is a classic Hollywood genre, spawning memorable pictures like Ocean’s Eleven, Heat, and even Inception.
However, that means that anyone trying to make a film in this genre must take steps to ensure their work stands out from the crowd. The Bank Job, released in 2008, shows how filmmakers can prevent their own heist movies from blending in with all the others.
These are a few key lessons to take away from the picture.
Find an Interesting Hook
It doesn’t matter how strong and memorable a film is if no one sees it. Moviemaking costs much less now than it did a couple of decades ago. More people are telling their stories on film than ever before. That means audiences have more pictures vying for their attention.
As a result, studios must look for ways to pique audience members’ interest. Often, studios accomplish this by adapting properties with a built-in fan base. There’s value in this approach, but it’s not appropriate for every project. The Bank Job’s team got around this obstacle by promoting the film as the previously untold true story behind a notorious crime. This little detail allows The Bank Job to entice viewers in a way that generic heist movie might not.
Choose an Interesting World in Which to Tell Your Story
Heist films offer viewers the chance to escape into the kind of world they’ll never be part of in their own lives. That’s why the most successful heist films focus on the unique aspects of a setting, the unique lifestyles of their characters, and the unique perspective of their filmmakers.
Heat, for example, is as much about Los Angeles as it is about bank robbers. Ocean’s Eleven creates a world in which smooth, sophisticated criminals routinely band together to rob lavish casinos. Inception takes viewers along on a journey with thieves who commit their crimes within the world of dreams.
That doesn’t mean filmmakers need to invent fantastic fictional universes to make heist pictures stand out. They just need to invite viewers into a world they don’t normally visit, one with its own set of details, rules, and essential characteristics.
That’s another reason The Bank Job makes an impression. It doesn’t just take place in 1970s London. It absolutely revels in it. The dialogue and overall demeanor of the characters suggest James Bond’s confident charm, The Beatles’ hip appeal, and the emerging anti-authority attitude of punk rock.
The set and costume design amplify the effect. The filmmakers make the smart choice not to repeatedly announce to viewers that they’re in 1970s London. That’s because heist movies are supposed to exist within these worlds naturally. They don’t need to remind us where we are or who we’re spending time with. They just need to make us feel like we’ve left our lives behind for a couple of hours.
Give Your Characters Genuine Motivation
Crime movies of any kind naturally feature characters who don’t play by society’s rules. In real life, most of us would judge the kinds of people who would rob a bank. If we’re going to enjoy spending a few hours with them, we need to find their motivation compelling, if not relatable.
Heat achieves this by implying that the same compulsion which drives some cops to obsessively pursue their targets may drive those very same targets to commit their crimes in the first place. Danny Ocean in Ocean’s Eleven isn’t robbing a casino for the money, so much as he’s robbing it to win back the love of his ex.
We remember these characters because we feel like what they do isn’t just the result of unquestioning, instinctive greed. That’s too easy.
The protagonist of The Bank Job agrees to commit a heist in a desperate attempt to get out of hot water with people to whom he is in substantial debt. We get the sense that he’s trying to live on the straight-and-narrow, but his association with criminals has put him in serious trouble. To get out of it, and live a respectable life, he must turn once again to crime.
That’s a very human, easy-to-grasp motivation. And it ensures that viewers remember The Bank Job much more easily than they would if it was simply another heist film with generic, one-note characters.
Although many movies in this genre have gone down as classics, there are plenty that have been forgotten. The Bank Job shows what studios must keep in mind in order to release heist movies that won’t be.