The 2000s were a good time for mid-budget Hollywood action movies. As the last decade before film became hooked on established franchises and superhero titles, the era produced a number of memorable — and not-so-memorable — thrillers. Some have stood the test of time, like Collateral and The Bourne Identity, while others have been forgotten.
The Italian Job falls somewhere in-between. It has its fans, but it’s always felt like one of the more underrated action films of the 2000s. While not as technically impressive or narratively inventive as Casino Royale or Kill Bill, it’s still the kind of purely entertaining, star-studded thriller that Hollywood rarely makes today. It’s streaming on HBO Max until the end of the month, and you need to catch it before it leaves.
A remake of a 1969 British film, 2003’s Italian Job tells a very different story than the film that inspired it. After opening with a Venice-set heist sequence, the film follows Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg) as he puts together a team to try and rob Steve Frazelli (Edward Norton), the man who betrayed Charlie and killed his mentor. It’s a straightforward plot that The Italian Job has a lot of fun with over 105 minutes.
By making Charlie’s mark a former comrade, the film manages to inject some personal stakes into its story without taking away from its larger scope. The Italian Job also delivers the memorable ensemble that every heist film needs. Jason Statham, Seth Green, and Mos Def play members of Charlie’s crew, while Charlize Theron is notable as Stella, a safecracker who just so happens to be the daughter of the man Norton’s Steve killed.
So The Italian Job isn’t lacking when it comes to star power. Wahlberg and Theron are their usual charismatic selves, while Norton turns in a memorably slimy performance as a bank robber who has no qualms about double-crossing his closest friends.
Behind the camera, future Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray proves himself to be a capable action filmmaker, injecting The Italian Job with more style and personality than he was able to give 2017’s The Fate of the Furious. The film’s climactic, Hollywood-set heist is particularly well-constructed. Throughout the sequence, Gray frequently cuts between the heist’s different perspectives, building tension without ever sacrificing the scene’s legibility or structure.
Gray puts those sturdy, straightforward sensibilities to great use throughout the entire film. The result is a capably made action thriller that never tries to do more than entertain. It’s easy to see why the film didn’t make much of a critical impact when it was released in 2003, as audiences were used to seeing a half-dozen movies like The Italian Job every summer.
Today, however, the film feels like a breath of fresh air. It’s a modest and fun Hollywood thriller that features solid work from everyone involved, and no one had to dress up in spandex to do it.
The Italian Job is available to stream on HBO Max until May 31.