Screenplay : David Mamet
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2001
Stars : Gene Hackman (Joe Moore), Danny DeVito (Mickey Bergman ), Delroy Lindo (Bobby Blane), Sam Rockwell (Jimmy Silk), Rebecca Pidgeon (Fran Moore), Ricky Jay (Don "Pinky" Pincus), Patti LuPone (Betty Croft)
Writer/director David Mamet doesn't waste any time getting down to it in his new twisty crime-thriller Heist. Within the first two minutes we are right in the middle of an elaborate robbery of a jewelry store that involves a team of four working together, creating distractions, drugging the employees' coffee, breaking into the store. It's all set to a jaunty, rhythmic musical score that's reminiscent of Ennio Morricone's work in The Untouchables, and you can immediately sense Mamet's glee: This is what he loves.
Unfortunately, while Heist is a solid piece of genre work—engaging, surprising, and sometimes quite funny—it is far from Mamet's best movie, especially his earlier forays into the world of crime and con artists in House of Games (1987) and The Spanish Prisoner (1997). In recent years, Mamet has been branching out from what we typically think of as "David Mamet films," with a British period piece in The Winslow Boy (1999) and the hilarious Hollywood satire State and Main (2000). With Heist, he's back doing what many consider he does best, but it may be that he's already played all his best cards. Heist works, but it doesn't soar.
Heist plays along well-worked genre lines, centering on Joe Moore (Gene Hackman), the consummate professional thief with years of experience and a certain way of doing things. Joe's authority is challenged by a cocky up and comer, Jimmy Silk (Sam Rockwell), who is forced into his gang by Mickey Bergman (Danny DeVito), the money man who bankrolls Joe's heist plans and takes a percentage of the earnings. Joe wants out of the business after he gets "burned" in the jewelry store robbery (the security cameras get a good shot of his face), but Bergman has already fronted a great deal of money to pay for a large heist of Swiss gold from a cargo plane, and he isn't about to let Joe out of his commitment.
Joe's three long-time accomplices are Bobby Blane (Delroy Lindo), his right-hand man; Fran (Rebecca Pidgeon), his young wife; and Don "Pinky" Pincus (Ricky Jay), a gifted con artist who doesn't mind allowing himself to get hit by a car if it means they pull off the job. This quartet of professional criminals has obviously been working together a long time, and they know each others' thoughts and rhythms, something that gets thrown off with the forced inclusion of Jimmy Silk, a "cowboy" who would rather pull a gun than talk his way out of a situation.
Not surprisingly, the centerpiece of Heist is the heist itself, which involves a larger scale version of the opening sequence, except this time at an airport. The team has to distract police officers and security guards so that they can stop a plane on the runway and empty it of hundreds of pounds of gold. It doesn't go off without a hitch, of course, and once the gold has been taken, loyalties are tested. The last 15 minutes of Heist turns into a series of betrayals and plot twists that would have been more effective had they felt more like the products of genuine human behavior than clever plot machinations. Especially unconvincing is the very final betrayal because the character who turns sides has not been developed thoroughly enough to justify the action. Of course, one can always argue in a movie of this sort that even this seemingly final betrayal might be one more put-on, and a sly smile from another character hints at just that.
This is Mamet's ninth outing behind the camera as director, and he skillfully guides Heist through the motions. There are a few true nail-biters, such as when Joe and the others are stopped by the side of the road and a state trooper pulls up. Just when Joe and Bobby have talked their way out of the situation, Jimmy Silk makes one small move that has the potential to turn the whole thing bad. From there on out, we know he will be constant trouble, and we're always watching him, waiting for him to undermine Joe's careful plans.
For many, the joys of Mamet's work is in the dialogue (he first gained notice as a Chicago-based playwright). Heist has more than its share of witty quips and forceful confrontations, and in the hands of solid actors like Hackman, DeVito, and Lindo, it works. Yet, again, as with the plot, one gets the feeling that Mamet is playing with the dialogue a little too much, in a way that detracts ultimately from the characters. At the end of Heist, we don't feel like we know all that much about any of the characters beyond their professional allegiances (which are admittedly moving in some respects, especially between Joe and Bobby), and thus the film lacks that extra dimension that could have taken it to another level.
Copyright © 2001 James Kendrick