William Friedkin’s Crooks Peter Falk, Warren Oates and Paul Sorvino Score an Ocean’s Zero



A cast like this can steal a lot of audience good will.  Peter Boyle… Warren Oates… Allen Garfield… Paul Sorvino… and in the lead, Columbo himself, the beloved Peter Falk.  So then, it’s only fitting that they be cast as a pack of thieves.  

Not just any thieves, though.  The Brink’s Job tells the story of the real-life gang of Boston shmoes (or a version thereof) who decide to quantum leap beyond the small-time pickpocketing, swiping groceries, and the occasional safe cracking to go for the gusto: the fortified local mega safe of the Brink’s company itself, long-trusted, ultra-secure keeper of the cash payroll of numerous businesses around town.  They spend much of the film casing the joint, scheming how to bypass the many layers of stainless-steel metal and imposing combination locks.  At one point, their maladjusted acquaintance Specs O’Keefe (Oates), a World War II veteran who won’t let anyone forget that, informs them that the most direct way into that vault is by firing a rocket into it from the rooftop next door.  Alternatively, it is suggested moments later that Specs be chained up in a basement.

Falk’s character, raspy fry cook Tony Pino, choses neither of those plans in favor of a good old-fashioned armed hold up.  Apparently, actual participants of the real life 1950 robbery served as advisors on the film, so one might safely assume that a lot of details presented are authentic.  For whatever that’s worth.  In any case, there seems to be a point that notions of high security in 1950 were far from what one may’ve expected in 1978, when the film was released.

Speaking of 1978… director William Friedkin had only recently toppled from his high perch as Auteur King of the 1970s.  With The French Connection (1971), Friedkin proved himself a master of the gritty procedural and the kinetic car chase.  With The Exorcist (1973), he proved himself a master of atmospheric horror.  With Sorcerer (1977), he set out to prove himself a master of the dire political thriller.  Except, a little thing called Star Wars came along that same summer, Force-choking Friedkin’s super-production and box office heir apparent into oblivion.  And just like that, the mighty Friedkin had fallen.

Where to go from there?  How about vying for the part of master of comedy?  Master of the heist picture?  Friedkin certainly has the cast for both genres.  With the fat 1970’s bankroll of super-producer Dino De Laurentiis, the director is able to fully recreate the vintage worlds of three separate decades leading up to and following the robbery.  The tale of an unlikely group of amateur shrubs stumbling onto a ridiculously easy big score makes for natural big screen material.  (The Brink’s Building of 1950 used no alarms, no guards, and not even tall fences, instead leaning on false claims and the public’s assumption of tight security).  That they essentially stroll in while the vault is open and bag over two million dollars in cash is the biggest joke of all.  Think of it as Ocean’s Zeroes.

Entirely made on location in Boston, it appears that production designer Dean Tavoularis entirely utilized existing locations to flesh out the dingy reality of The Brink’s Job.  The look and feel strikes the viewer as entirely authentic, a fine point of value for many who go to the movies to experience historical accuracy.  

Oh, there’s just one more thing (a few, actually) … The Brink’s Job isn’t funny.  Not really, anyway.  This revelation may not surprise those familiar with the director’s extremely prominent work of that decade, but it does fly in the face of the promises made by the film’s marketing.  Its trailer, included on the disc, shows every possible moment that could be construed for laughs.  It’s all minor stumbles and fumbles with the occasional falling safe or loud noise.  The Brink’s Job is as devoid of belly laughs as the Brink’s vault is following the heist.  There’s a blah, truly disappointing flatline about it.  To top it all off, the great Gena Rowlands is completely wasted in the dinky role of Falk’s wife.

Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ new Blu-ray release of The Brink’s Job boasts a terrific transfer that evokes the cinematographic texture and vibe of 1970s cinema.  The only bonus feature of note is a new audio commentary by film historians Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson.  The familiar triumvirate, while reverent of Friedkin and his consistency in depicting obsessions across the board of his career, break down the film while never overly lauding it.  Their track is a fine appreciation of the film in the context of what it is, and a thorough history lesson on the ins and outs of the production.

It might not take Columbo to solve the case of the Brink’s robbery, but he might be the right guy to get the lowdown on why this much talent and this much money in the service of such an unbelievably true story has been scrapped together for a movie that is ultimately as tepid as this one.  While the film’s stellar cast and director may make a case for The Brink’s Job as a promising heist comedy, that case, like the building they break into and rob, is not all it’s boasted to be.

The images used in this review are used only as a reference to the film and do not reflect the image quality of the Blu-ray.