Deservedly one of the Summer's biggest sleeper hits, "The Italian Job" may lack originality (it's a remake, after all), but it gets just about everything else right. Breezy and spirited, "The Italian Job" realizes its strengths are in its casting and allows the cast to work off each other wonderfully. The film opens in Venice, where a team of thieves, lead by John Bridger (Donald Sutherland), tries for one last big score - $35 million in gold.
The team - composed of Charlie (Mark Whalberg), Left Ear (Mos Def), Steve Frezelli (Edward Norton), Lyle (Seth Green) and Handsome Rob (Jason Statham) do succeed in pulling off the heist, but one of them - I'll leave their identity secret, even if the trailers didn't - has other plans. Cut to: the remainder of the team is in Los Angeles, tracking down the one that got away. With the addition of John's safecracker daughter, Stella (Charlize Theron, who never looked better), they set out for revenge.
So, while there's not much to it, it works effectively for several reasons. Screenwriters Donna and Wayne Powers (who also wrote the enjoyably trashy "Deep Blue Sea") manage a nice balance of humor and action in the screenplay, while also giving each of the characters their moments. Green's computer hacker has a particularly funny bit of business where he consistently claims to have been the inventor of song-sharing internet service Napster, named as such for the reason that the thief (actual Napster creator Shawn Fanning, in a cameo) stole it while he was asleep. Whalberg (certainly improved after the disasterous "Truth about Charlie") and Theron (who plays tough, yet vulnerable superbly) share excellent chemistry, with both offering their most energetic performances in recent memory. Mos Def and Jason Statham (the latter seemingly having fun for the first time since "Snatch") provide excellent support, as well. The casting works and most audiences will get behind the characters. While certainly not without a few great action scenes, this is one of the few Summer movies in recent years that zippy and fun, yet more character-driven than these movies usually are.
The film's stunts are also capably handled. Certainly, the BMW Mini Coopers are the star of the show, and energetically zip around the LA cityscape. The opening scene in Venice (actually filmed in Venice) also works as a nifty bit of trickery. Cinematography by Wally Pfister (quite busy after Christopher Nolan's "Memento" and "Insomnia") is easily appreciated, offering a naturalistic palette and cinematography that captures the action and character moments without calling attention to itself.
If anything, "Italian Job" could be a little tighter. At nearly two hours, the film could lose maybe 10-15 minutes and have upped the pace a little bit. Other than that, this is a perfectly enjoyable, entertaining and memorable bit of Summer fare. Certainly, it was one of the very few bright spots this past Summer.
VIDEO: "Italian Job" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen by Paramount. This is not quite up to the standards that Paramount has set with some of its other recent major releases, but it's still a very fine effort. Sharpness and detail are first-rate, as clarity and definition are consistent throughout the picture.
Still, some flaws do appear. Small specks and a couple of nicks were spotted on the print used. Some slight instances of edge enhancement were also apparent in a couple of scenes. Still, no compression artifacts or other faults were seen. The film's naturalistic color palette looked accurately rendered, with nice saturation and no concerns.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation is quite entertaining. The action is opened out into the room nicely by the surrounds, which do offer nice reinforcement for John Powell's score, as well as a lot of nicely recorded sound effects. Helicopter flyovers zip through the listening space and cars fly around in every direction. Sound quality is superb, as explosions carry hefty impact, other sound effects and ambience remain clear and dialogue is clean.
EXTRAS: Billed as a "Special Collector's Edition", the DVD unfortunately includes no commentary, instead focusing on a series of featurettes.
Pedal to the Metal: This is an 18-minute piece that offers an overview of the production. The opening of the documentary is underwhelming, as it's a prime example of "Happy talk", with a capital H. Everyone talks about how wonderful it was to work with everyone, how terrific director F. Gary Grey was and what a pleasure it was to do this movie. While that's perfectly fine and probably true, it's not particularly interesting or insightful. Finally, things do get interesting, as we learn more about the preparation that the actors went through (working with actual safecrackers) and trying to set-up the film's major stunts, which included shutting down streets in Los Angeles that created a nasty traffic jam.
Putting Words to the Page: This is a 5-minute piece that has screenwriters Donna and Wayne Powers discussing their feelings about trying to write and develop a screenplay which had the same feel as the original, yet few of the same elements.
Driving School: This is a 5-minute featurette that discusses how the actors went to driving school for a few weeks to learn how to do stunt work, since they would be the ones doing the majority of the stunt work in the film itself.
High Octane: Stunts: This is a nearly 8-minute feature that starts off detailing the immense difficulty of trying to transport an entire film crew around the canals of Venice. The desire to do the film's stunts practically instead of enhancing them with CGI is also discussed.
Also: A featurette on the Mini Cooper cars featured in the movie, the film's theatrical trailer and six deleted scenes.
Final Thoughts: One of the best films of the Summer of 2003, "The Italian Job" works well because of casting, well-handled stuntwork and a fun screenplay that adds in humor at the right parts and offers nicely defined characters. Paramount's DVD does present the film well, with good audio/video quality and a few decent supplements. Recommended.