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London calling 

Two hits set among Brits

The Bank Job bills itself as being based on a true story, but given cinema's propensity for fudging details every which way, that's not a declaration I'd be willing to take to the bank myself. But veracity be damned: Even if every detail of this heist flick was drenched in fiction, it doesn't change the fact it's one compelling package.

The film is set in 1971, which seems right, since one could easily picture the British heavyhitters of that era (Michael Caine, Ian Bannen, Harry Andrews, etc.) appearing in a film just like this one (Caine, in fact, did headline a heist flick during this period, 1969's The Italian Job). Indeed, here's a film that feels veddy British to its core, starting with the thick accents repping various upbringings and areas right down to the commoners' disdain for the aloof agents working for England's Secret Service (a running gag is that nobody can figure out if these spooks work for MI5 or MI6). And inhabiting the film's central role is Jason Statham, who, thanks to a series of action films, has become the current poster boy for British roughhousing. The Bank Job gives his character, Terry Leather, a chance to use his brains more than his brawn, and this allows Statham a bit more vulnerability than usual -- his character even has a wife and two daughters, a break from the image of the emotionless lone warrior.

Not that there's much room for the sentimental stuff in this admirably knotty crime flick. Terry is approached by a former acquaintance (Saffron Burrows) to pull off a robbery at a Lloyds Bank that will benefit them both. She has her own reasons beyond monetary gain for making this proposal, and Terry senses that rather quickly. But he and his crew go for it anyway, a decision that involves them in a labyrinthine scandal that not only reaches into the upper echelons of government but also snares the British royal family as well.

That's hardly the extent of the film's many-tentacled reach -- a black militant and a porn peddler also figure into the proceedings -- and it's a testament to the skills of the ace writing team of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (Across the Universe, The Commitments) as well as director Roger Donaldson (Thirteen Days) that they can corral all the various plot strands and weave them into a cohesive whole. Brimming with satisfying twists and populated with colorful characters, this represents a Job well done.

MISS PETTIGREW LIVES for a Day is the sort of airy confection that will be dismissed by many as a pleasant but forgettable bauble, and that's OK. But catch it on the proper wavelength and its pleasures are not only bountiful but durable. It's romantic without being cynical, witty without being puerile, and blessed by two divine performances from Frances McDormand and Amy Adams.

McDormand plays the title character, a British governess in 1939 London who all too suddenly finds herself unemployed. Desperate to remain off the streets, she dupes her way into the position of social secretary to American actress Delysia Lafosse (Adams), a dim but sweet-natured starlet whose biggest problem seems to be choosing between two playboys (Tom Payne and Mark Strong) who can advance her career and a struggling pianist (Lee Pace) who truly loves her.

Yeah, I know: It's a no-brainer ascertaining who gets her hand by the fadeout. Yet despite Adams' screwball-style performance -- as enchanting as her turn in Enchanted -- the film's main source of delight doesn't rest with Delysia's affairs of the heart but with Miss Pettigrew's. A prim woman who lost her beloved during the First World War, Miss Pettigrew has long given up on any chance at romance. That a potential suitor comes along in the form of a successful clothing designer (Ciaran Hinds) seems just right, not only by the demands of the storyline, but by the demands of our own hearts. McDormand sells her character with utter conviction, and the only thing possibly more praiseworthy than Miss Pettigrew is the movie that bears her name.

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