The Bling Ring

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The first thing you notice: these are some really bad burglars. Vaulting over a gated fence in security-cam footage, they’re less stealthy than awkward: a lame assembly of bumblers that even a sleepy dog would notice. They slam into doors with profane grunts. Maybe keep it down a little? Amazingly, the house is breached, they take care of business and leave, loaded with bags and – is that an oil painting? An electric guitar explodes on the soundtrack (Sleigh Bells’ Crown on the Ground) and we’re off to the after-party.

The Bling Ring, Sofia Coppola’s deceptively shallow but ultimately fascinating latest, is animated by that we-don’t-give-a-fuck spirit of playfulness. It doesn’t quite take the side of the real-life teen thieves who raided the Hollywood homes of Paris Hilton, Megan Fox and others – a crime spree chronicled in Nancy Jo Sales’ 2010 Vanity Fair feature The Suspects Wore Louboutins, on which Coppola’s screenplay is based. But it doesn’t depict them as monsters, either, or anything worse than the nincompoops that bored upper-middle-class kids can often be. After years of garnering sympathy for the born-rich in movies such as Marie Antoinette and Somewhere (and thus opening herself up to criticism), Coppola delves deeper into lifestyle envy than ever before, with a maturity obscured by loads of onscreen bad behaviour.

The scam went like this: Marc (Israel Broussard), a closeted loner new to remedial Indian Hills High School in Calabasas, California, would locate celebrity addresses on Google Earth to please Rebecca (Katie Chang), his fashion-obsessed friend and exploiter. Too thrilled by the ease of their initial exploits (and their thickening wads of spending cash), they bragged about it on Facebook, expanding the group to include wanna-be models Nicki (Emma Watson) and Sam (Taissa Farmiga).

You’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, yet The Bling Ring continues its slide into a subversive stretch of freefall where consequences seem especially distant. No one actor is singled out from the pack (this could be Coppola’s purest piece of direction yet) as the characters’ sense of entitlement blooms with every exchange. Are the blingers really going to boost that pricey Porsche? “I got them on the way out,” Rebecca blithely says of the keys, as if she owned the place. Vroom vroom.

Of course, there’s morality here for those who want it: This Is 40’s Leslie Mann is extra-squeaky as an unaware New Age mom (the other parents are no better); we also learn that Hilton kept her key under the mat – just desserts? But what lingers in our memory has more to do with an atmosphere of stolen luxury (beautifully rendered by cinematographer Harris Savides in his final film), with crickets and helicopters swirling in the night air. These young criminals just coveted what they saw on TMZ. And no one told them their dream was fake – maybe because it’s not in this day and age. Joshua Rothkopf

Dir Sofia Coppola Category IIB, 90 mins, opens on Thu Sep 5

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