‘Why I believe we shouldnt glamorise crime’
A film critic for The Guardian, Catherine Shoard has written for The Telegraph and many other publications. She has also written widely about the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
Films that glamorise crime, like the new Ocean’s 8, are a staple of American cinema. But English films tend to take a darker view of crime. Catherine Shoard thinks that’s a very good thing.
When does a robbery become a heist? When wigs are involved? When someone produces a blueprint? When the value of the bounty tops seven figures? Or is the real tipping point a montage in which four or more people, each with a specific skill, are recruited to the sound of slap bass and glissando organ?
None of the above. Heists happen only in America. Few British movies dignify what they’re up to with the “h” word. Instead, they tend to opt for “job”. For Americans, they’re art.
This elevation of a scheme to steal stuff to the heights of glamour reaches its peak with the release of Ocean’s 8, a gender-switched spin-off of Ocean’s Eleven. In that film, George Clooney and pals cleaned out a casino; in this, Sandra Bullock plays Clooney’s sister, a woman who has spent five years in prison plotting how one might relieve the Metropolitan Museum of Art of a particularly posh necklace.
“Few British movies dignify what they’re up to with the “h” word. For Americans, they’re art.”
As per all heist movies, it’s sold as good harmless fun. No one gets hurt! The only loser is the insurance company! And the goons who work for them forfeited the right to sympathy when they chose their careers, right? Sure, some security guards are probably in for the chop. Ditto the techies who installed the CCTV. But if eight stone-cold babes want to boost their bank balances, que sera.
But such sentiments feel uneasy today. At a time when mobile phones and social media ensure we’re all familiar with what crime really looks like, our tolerance for embracing it as entertainment may be diminished.
Or is it worse? Maybe we’ve been wrong about baddies all along. The French philosopher Simone Weil wrote 75 years ago: “Nothing is so beautiful and wonderful, nothing is so continually fresh and surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy, as the good. No desert is so dreary, monotonous, and boring as evil. This is the truth about authentic good and evil. With fictional good and evil it is the other way round. Fictional good is boring and flat, whole fictional evil is varied and intriguing, attractive, profound, and full of charm.”
Back then, Weil’s case for the joys of the good didn’t convince. People still flocked to Bonnie and Clyde and The Godfather and the complete works of Martin Scorsese. But her words may be more likely to chime with a generation raised on superheroes and suspicious about the idea of consequence-free crime.
Another heist movie, out in the autumn, suggests millennials are indeed on board. American Animals is the story of four students who tried to pilfer some rare books from a Kentucky library in 2004. They strategised for months, then blew it when met with — and this is a bit of a spoiler, I’m afraid — the moderate distress of the middle-aged librarian. Larkiness evaporates; in its place, panic and pratfalls.
American Animals feels emotionally accurate, and, in switching focus from the perpetrators to those affected, progressive. The point is to prick the concept of criminal audacity and turn hero to dope and victim to victor.
For my money, our finest heist film in all but name is the Ealing comedy The Ladykillers. A beautifully executed robbery — the cops even escort the loot back to the safe house — and a perfect ending, with unwitting accomplice Mrs Wilberforce the only one still standing, others undone by their incompetence, or their unwillingness to bump off a little old lady. Crime never really pays on British screens. It’s time it was devalued in America, too.
- Is it okay for films to glamorise crime?
- Pick two different films about crime and write 500 words comparing their moral messages.
- Such as the films The Italian Job and The Bank Job or the real jewellery heist known as the Hatton Garden Job.
- Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Usually known simply as “The Met”, this is the largest art museum in the United States. Located in New York’s Upper East Side, it is the world’s fifth most visited museum.
- Simone Weil
- A French philosopher and political activist, Simone Weil was one of the most important left-wing political thinkers of her time. Unlike many of her peers who increasingly embraced atheism, she became more religious as her life progressed.
- Ealing comedy
- A series of comedy films produced by the London-based Ealing studios from the late 1940s until the late 1950s.