(1978)2.5Mark DemingLots of folks in Hollywood have a niche, but no one likes to think that they're only good at one thing. Every great comic actor wants to do a serious role so folks will know they can "really act," and every dramatic star wants to show they can also make the people laugh. Directors are no different, and while William Friedkin will always be best known for thrillers and action pictures like The Exorcist, The French Connection and Cruising, the man has a few comedies on his resume, though few people regard Deal Of The Century or Good Times (the latter starring Sonny and Cher) as examples of the man's best work (in all fairness, 1968's The Night They Raided Minsky's does have its fair share of admirers). In 1978, Friedkin tried to have it both ways with The Brink's Job, a heist picture that played its story for both suspense and laughs; the result was a movie that was short on both thrills and comedy, but it has just enough visual style and solid performances to make it worth a look.
Inspired by a true story, The Brink's Job is set in Boston in the 1940s and '50s, where Tony Pino (Peter Falk) is something of a local hero, hailed by the guys in the neighborhood as "the greatest thief in the world." Tony's friends are exceedingly generous, because Tony's skills are a criminal don't seem to be much to brag about; he's a pretty good shoplifter, but his attempts at bigger scores invariably end in failure, in part due to his loyalty to his thick-headed brother in law, Vinnie Costa (Allen Goorwitz). One of Tony's more spectacularly wrong-headed robberies ends up earning him a long stay in prison, but when he's released, his wife Mary (Gena Rowlands) throws him a welcome home party, and every one in the neighborhood shows up, happy to see him back. While checking out a Goodwill office in hopes of clearing out the safe, Tony notices that the Brink's armored car service has their headquarters near by, and he begins wondering just how hard it would be to rob the place. As it turns out, Brink's isn't as tough a nut to crack as he imagined; while they have plenty of guards, they all leave in the evening, and their security system is surprisingly flimsy, and before long Tony can practically hear the cash calling out to him. Convinced that he call pull off a Brink's robbery, Tony pulls together his usual crew -- Vinnie, Sandy (Gerard Murphy) and Stanley (Kevin O'Connor) -- and adds adventurous bookie Jazz Maffie (Paul Sorvino), veteran fence Joe McGuinness (Peter Boyle), and Specs O'Keefe (Warren Oates), a big talking demolitions expert who turns out to be crazier than they expected. To the surprise of everyone, including Tony and his gang, the robbery goes off without a hitch and the guys walk away with $1.5 million dollars in cash, the biggest American robbery of its time. All Tony and his crew have to do now is stay out of trouble and keep their mouths shut until the statute of limitations passes and they'll divide up the loot and live like kings for the rest of their days. Of course with these guys, that's an even bigger task than robbing the Brink's office.
The Brink's Job opens with a saxophone player in clown make-up wandering a Boston alleyway as he soulfully plays a tune for no clear reason, and in a way it sets up the movie's strengths and weaknesses right off the bat -- Friedkin went out of his way to make this movie a visual feast, but that doesn't mean it makes a whole lot of sense. This is a movie in which the hero is a thief who is loved by everyone around him, even through he's usually stealing from them at the same time, and the movie never seems to make up its mind if Tony is a criminal genius who is simply plagued with bad luck, or a charming dunce who somehow stumbled into the biggest score of his time. Production designer Dean Tavoularis and cinematographer Norman Leigh give The Brink's Job an excellent period look that's grimy and gorgeous at the same time, and Friedkin has assembled an excellent cast and given them just the right amount of room to move. Peter Falk's wise guy charm was rarely put to better use than it was here as Tony, Paul Sorvino is excellent as the cool and stylish Jazz, Gena Rowlands gives admirable weight and resonance to the underwritten role of Mary, and Warren Oates is nothing short of superb as the brilliant but unstable O'Keefe. The movie looks so good and the cast works so well that the movie's wild inconsistencies of tone, the frequently clumsy pace and Friedkin's inability to make the comic and action elements work at the same time seem almost forgivable as the you stick with the characters to the end. In a way, The Brink's Job is a lot like Tony Pino -- it gets by on its style and its charm, even when anyone with any sense would know enough not to get taken in.
A handful of bumbling crooks pull off the heist of the century in spite of themselves in this blend of comedy and action. Tony Pino (Peter Faulk) is a small time crook whose attempts to stage large scale robberies have a habit of going very, very wrong, and he fares better at running a diner and fencing stolen radios than making a living as a thief. However, while casing out a Goodwill office with his brother in law Vinnie (Allen Goorwitz) in hopes of robbing the safe, Tony notices the Brink's Armored Car Company's building near by, and starts to wonder how hard it would be to break in. The more Tony investigates, the more he discovers the security at Brink's is more a matter of reputation than intricate design, and that getting in after hours would be within his abilities. Tony assembles a crew of thieves -- clumsy Vinnie, sharp-dressing bookie Jazz (Paul Sorvino), money launderer Joe (Peter Boyle), fast-talking but edgy Specs (Warren Oates), funny man Stanley (Kevin J. O'Connor) and nice guy Sandy (Gerard Murphy) -- and together they pull off the biggest cash robbery of their time, walking away with $1.5 million. But stealing the money is one thing -- keeping their mouths shut and not going crazy as they wait for the statute of limitations to run out on the job is something else. Also starring Gena Rowlands, The Brink's Job was inspired by the real life robbery of the Brink's company's Boston headquarters in January 1950; as the ends credits note, at the time of the movie's release in 1978, it was the only successful robbery of a Brink's company building, though a Brink's armored car would be ambushed by thieves in Nanuet, New York in 1980.