Mark Reviews Movies


3 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: David Mamet

Cast: Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito, Delroy Lindo, Sam Rockwell, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ricky Jay

MPAA Rating: R (for language and some violence)

Running Time: 1:47

Release Date: 11/9/01

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Review by Mark Dujsik

David Mamet’s Heist is a throwback to old-fashioned caper movies with an emphasis on plotting and characterization. That it’s written and directed by Mamet himself also means that it becomes an interesting study of people in extreme circumstances who talk kind of like normal people do but in a hyper-realistic sort of way. I’ll call the little quirks in the dialogue "Mamet-isms" because they could only come from the modern, American master of wordplay, clichéd phrases, and naturalistic speech. But what’s most intriguing is how the film, unlike The Score, is not about the heist itself. As Joe, played by Gene Hackman, the brains behind the operation, states, "Anyone can get the goods. It’s getting away that’s hard." Heist is more about getting away but not just getting away from the job. It’s about getting away from the life and, of course, moving forward with whatever may come.

Appropriately, the movie opens with a robbery, and like the other major robbery in the movie, little details are given out slowly, and by the time it’s over, we’re amazed at just how they managed to pull it off. The only problem is that Joe is caught twice on a security camera, both times without a mask. So now he’s, as the guys would put it, "burnt"—tainted, if you will. The other problem is that Bergman (Danny DeVito), the front man, has held back on payment. So to compensate, he offers the team, Joe, Bobby (Delroy Lindo), Joe’s wife Fran (Rebecca Pidgeon), and "Pinky" (Ricky Jay), the opportunity to go for one last job, which is ambivalently called "the Swiss job." Joe would rather call it quits now, but without any money, he needs this job. Coming aboard for the heist is Jimmy Silk (Sam Rockwell), Bergman’s nephew, who starts off as the new, inept "lame" but later becomes the reason the job stays on track and a major player in the betrayals and double-crosses that make up the film.

The movie sets us up a con game amongst thieves, and then it fully delivers. Back-stabbing ensues, and we’re not entirely sure exactly who’s playing who until the second to last shot of the movie. I would even argue that the final shot sets up another possibility, but it’s simply a level of ambiguity to think about. Indeed, the majority of the movie is the way in which these characters trick each other with dialogue—saying just enough—and deception—saying the wrong thing. Mamet’s script handles the thick plotting with ease, and even when we may be a bit confused as to where certain characters’ loyalties lie, we admire the dialogue. Obviously having a field day with these characters, Mamet throws in some great one-lines, like "[He’s] so cool, when he goes to bed, sheep count him." Then when the plot seems to be heading toward an inevitable shoot-out, Mamet seems to know it’s the easy way out, and he places a character in the crossfire yelling, "We’re talking! Why can’t we talk!" It’s a great shoot-out because: 1.) we’re caught up in these characters; 2.) its style is similar to the dialogue (hyper-realistic); and 3.) it plays with the convention that conflicts in movies can only be resolved with a showdown.

But one of the more important reasons Heist plays so well are its quiet moments. The opening robbery is a superb sequence of paths crossing. The entire Swiss job is done with minimal dialogue, and when the robbery really takes off, there is a solid five or ten minutes of silence, occasionally interrupted by off-screen walkie-talkie conversations that could mean the end of the job. The robbery sequence here builds just as the first one did, except now the stakes are much higher and the scope is much broader. Then there’s the final minute or so, where the resolution of all the double-crosses is summed up with a single smile. And then there are the other not-so-quiet moments, like a conversation about a boat where we sense that only one of them is really talking about a boat.

The characters are important to the movie (not vice versa, as is too often the case), and though they appear as types, they are fleshed out just enough. Mamet’s characters are always about the internal build, and it seems to be the little things that set them off. Bobby is brought to violence by his desire to take an empty bag, and we sense something ready to snap when he asks another character to move his car a few times. The casting is great, and everyone has the style down. DeVito is properly threatening and conniving, Pidgeon is sexy and conniving, and Rockwell is determined and conniving. Lindo does seem a bit underused, but later, an honor-among-thieves relationship between Bobby and Joe is brought into light, and a cafe scene has surprising poignancy for what it is. On the acting front, this is Hackman’s movie, though, and he handles both the style and the character with the skill we’ve come to expect from an expert like himself.

Heist is a solidly entertaining caper flick with great performances, intelligent and fun dialogue, and expertly crafted plotting. It’s a thriller with the capability of drawing true suspense. I’ll call it mainstream Mamet—well, as mainstream as Mamet can get. But being Mamet, it’s entertaining on levels that filmgoers raised on the mainstream may take for granted.

Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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