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'Good Thief, The'

Nolte back in business in 'The Good Thief'

Friday, May 02, 2003

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Film Critic

Writer-director Neil Jordan loves the netherworld. Netherworlds plural, actually, because there's a different one wherever you go -- in "Mona Lisa" (1986), "The Crying Game" (1992) and "Interview With the Vampire" (1994), for example.

'The Good Thief'

RATING: R for language and sex

STARRING: Nick Nolte, Nutsa Kukhianidze, Tcheky Karyo

DIRECTOR: Neil Jordan


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In "The Good Thief," his 13th film, the Netherworld According to Neil is that of Monte Carlo and the French Riviera casino culture, where Nick Nolte is plotting an impossible heist. Nolte and "seedy" are synonyms: He's Bob, a washed-up compulsive gambler and heroin addict with a Picasso complex and a heart of tarnished gold. He's out of dope, luck and money, and his gang-that-couldn't-steal-straight consists of an assortment of misfits, all of whom are closely watched by the police.

But the overt heist-in-progress (a grand casino robbery) is a cover for the covert and even grander heist of that fabulous art collection on the casino's walls.

Or is the art really on the walls? Or, for that matter, is the money really in the vault?

Bob has a few simple rules for gambling: Always look your best. Always play the game to the limit. If you're going to win big, always do it with a girl called Anne.

The plot is hard to follow, but Anne isn't. She is played by a terrifically sexy newcomer by the catchy name of Nutsa Kukhianidze. She's Georgian, and not the Atlanta kind (though it turns out that, in real life, she moved there). Here, she moves in and out of Bob's shady life with offhand slinky grace, grateful to him for saving her from prostitution.

The dialogue, when it's not too mumbly or heavily accented to catch, is often a snappy-patter delight:

"You're not bad for a man of your age," says Anne (in her underwear) to Bob.

"What age is that?" he answers.

"Stone Age," she replies.

Nolte is perfect as Bob, putting the art back in con-artistry. Tcheky Karyo as the long-suffering cop is a good straight man for him. There's a nice cameo by Ralph Fiennes as an underground art fence. Mark and Mike Polish, the identical twins of "Twin Falls, Idaho," play identical casino security dicks here.

"Good Thief" is essentially a remake of the 1955 Jean-Pierre Melville classic "Bob le Flambeur," with variations on the themes of "Asphalt Jungle," "Charade," "Caprice" and similarly smart Euro-capers of yore. Jordan employs novel little stop-action "holds" instead of cuts at the end of his shots, cleverly deploying the wonderfully sexy French song, "A Thousand Kisses Deep," along the way.

But most wonderfully sexy, by far, is that dark, deep-voiced Georgian girl -- she'll drive you Nutsa.

Barry Paris can be reached at 412-263-3859.

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