In communist Romania in 1959, five Jewish partisans come together to commit an audacious robbery, and not just any bank but they rob the National Bank of Romania. They don’t want the money for themselves but in order to get Jews out of Romania and to Israel. They also want to show that life under Ceauceşcu is bad. Using an armoured car, wearing masks and carrying guns they pretend to be shooting a film – they even have a cameraman.
Watching the end of this and believing it is a real film, a young waiter, Virgil (Harry Lloyd) leaves his cafe and joins the crowd. He is sucked into the film world. The four male robbers and their female accomplice are caught and sentenced to death. However, before the sentence can be carried out, the authorities decide to make a propaganda film to deter others. They then film a re-creation of the original robbery one year later using the actual robbers, who, as part of their sentence, are let out of prison to be put into smart costumes with make-up and hair done and even – for one scene – given the expensive food they demand in a restaurant.
When the director is drunk and asleep during the filming, Max (Mark Strong), the leader of the little band, directs the shoot. By this time Virgil is the cameraman and becomes even more closely involved with the group and, in particular, with Alice (Vera Farmiga). The ending is sad but before that there is a lot of philosophising (perhaps a little too much) in small rooms and some black comedic moments around the re-creation of the robbery.
The movie starring British and American actors is in English and very accessible. At the end of the film we see photos of the real people. Christan McKay is wide-eyed and anxious as one of the robbers and the others are all good in their parts. Vera Farmiga is a feisty, dedicated activist who tries to protect her young son from his ambitious father, Max (now her ex-boyfriend). Allan Corduner – as the drunk film director – gives us another of his well-drawn characters. And Mark Strong, sporting a wig, is strong (ha!) as the leader of the gang.
Worth a look.
Review by Carlie Newman