This Brexit era riff on De Sica's neorealist classic is a great calling card for Alec Secăreanu but suffers from a slightly pedestrian script
Matt Chambers’ directorial debut The Bike Thief is Alec Secăreanu’s first chance to grapple with a screen leading role outside of his ravishing turn in God’s Own Country and, indeed, his home country of Romania. The title and premise, of course, recall De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, one of the pioneering statements of Italian neorealism, that film’s stolen peddle bike replaced with a moped, and post-World War II Rome swapped out for Brexit Britain.
It’s an interesting conceit. Poverty and destitution are not novel concepts, after all, and there’s something to be said about the temporal current The Bike Thief sets up here: the implicit statement being that our current economic conditions, be it in Italy or Britain, and not so different from those seventy-odd years ago (they are, perhaps, even worse).
That said, the focus is most certainly on the specific economic precarities of the present. Though we meet his family – first-generation Romanian migrants living on a run-down estate – Secăreanu’s character is anonymous, going only by the moniker “The Driver.” It’s no mistake that, when we first meet him, he’s hidden under a bike helmet: he is but another part in the Deliveroo supply chain, easily expendable, and just as easily replaced (as he mentions to a colleague, he seldom speaks English unless it’s to say “delivery” and “thank you”). His clandestinity, too, is evocative of Ryan Gosling’s similarly named protagonist in Drive; Nicolas Winding Refn’s work feels like a stylistic muse here, from the film’s latter-stage electronic soundtrack, to its neon-lit shots of London’s streets.
It’s all compelling enough, and there’s a lot to juggle, which Chambers handles well: the contemporary migrant experience, the precarious gig economy, contending with London as its own indomitable beast. It’s great, too, to see Secăreanu flex his acting muscles. The Driver is cascaded with pressure throughout The Bike Thief, unravelling quietly until the moment of eruption, like a volcano quaking with the shifting earth; he performs it all with great precision and his performance is absolutely the most compelling aspect of the film’s terse, eighty-minute runtime – the only lament being that you wish he had meatier material to work with. The Bike Thief is, nevertheless, a great, stylish calling card.
The Bike Thief is now streaming on various digital platforms.Where to watch