Heist (2001) Movie Review

The problem with Heist Films is that you know the storyline of the film you’re about to watch even before the curtains go up or you buy the ticket. You pretty much know what you’ll see in the First Act, the Second Act, and in the concluding Third Act. There really is no surprise anymore to any Heist Film except for one thing: How is the anti-hero (the thief) going to outwit the villain at the end? After all, you know that the Last Big Job, though complex and practically impossible, will be possible and pulled off by our hero and his team. The real twist is at the end, when our hero defeats the villain using his brains. But how is he going to do that, that’s the real question.

Here’s the breakdown of all Heist films: In the First Act, you’ll see the hero perform a theft that will be almost as spectacular as the movie’s Last Big Job — he’ll perform it skillfully, thus establishing his skills as a thief (he now has cred with the audience). The end of Act One will involve the villain (usually a broker or a fixer — re: a third party) somehow getting the hero to do another, harder job, although the hero will always say No (the biggest clich’ is that he’s retiring).

Of course, there wouldn’t be a movie if our hero weren’t somehow roped into doing the Last Big Job — he’s blackmailed, he needs the money, he’s doing it as a favor, etc. Act Two involves the planning for the Last Big Job — the recruitment of characters, the purchasing of items, the actual planning (which can involve scoping out the job, going over the plan, etc.). Act Three, of course, is the actual performance of the Last Big Job — and while doing the job, there will be a slight hitch or two (to throw some “excitement” our way), but in the end, the plan will go off as planned, leaving, of course, the inevitable “double cross” (or in some cases, double crosses) between the hero and villain. This means we, the audience, will finally be let in on just how smart our hero is as he outwits the villain — it’s a matter of nth degree: How clever will our hero be in the end?

What I’m trying to say is, Heist Films are old hat. In 2001 alone, there were 3 Heist Films that followed this formula to a “T”: The Score with Robert De Niro, Ocean’s 11 with George Clooney and Brad Pitt, and now Heist with Gene Hackman and Danny Devito. And those were just the North American, big budget Hollywood films! Can you imagine how many Heist Films were made in Europe, Asia, or around the globe at the same time? Let me assure you, there are a lot. Since it’s all been done before, the trick is to make your Heist Film’s Last Big Job as elaborate as possible and make your anti-hero as likeable as possible so we’ll root for them and be on their side.

This is usually where I would give you, the reader, the rundown of Heist’s plot, but all I need to do is ask you to re-read the above paragraphs again. A Heist Film is a Heist film — there’s no need to retread it.

Heist stars Gene Hackman as Joe Moore, the “old and retiring” thief with the right measure of old man’s paranoia and calculating mind. Hackman plays Joe just right — confident in his own ability to outwit anyone, and yet fallible enough to be afraid. As his wife and partner-in-crime, Rebecca Pidgeon (aka Mrs. Mamet) is Fran. Pidgeon brings a lot of sexuality to a movie that otherwise might have been about old farts going on a last hurrah. Pidgeon is both sexy and a true femme fatale, and you’re never really sure if she’s got Joe’s retirement and good health on her mind or is thinking about her own backup plans.

Danny Devito plays the villain, the broker/fencer who gets Joe to do the Last Big Job. He’s okay, although his small stature makes him less menacing, and thus less convincing. Sam Rockwell (“Galaxy Quest”) is Jimmy Silk, a young up-and-comer who has his eyes on the job as well as Joe’s wife. Rockwell is sometimes too annoying in his smugness and belief that he’s better than Joe, and he comes across as irritating — but then again, that’s his character, so Rockwell pulls it off with flying colors. Delroy Lindo and Ricky Jay make up the rest of Joe’s crew.

Heist’s writer/director is David Mamet, a man known for his movie dialogue. Mamet developed a reputation in Hollywood early on as the go-to person when you need a quick polish done on your screenplay’s dialogue or someone to touch up your movie’s plot troubles. Mamet started his career in theater and in writing, and maybe this is why he’s not all that comfortable with Heist’s action scenes — although few, they do come across as very inept compared to the rest of the movie.

Mamet does, once again, show that he’s a good writer with Heist’s intricate plot, and he’s able to deliver short bursts of dialogue that sums up the character and situation perfectly. The man is very good with words, but not so good when it comes to gunplay. His direction of Heist is competent, even workmanlike, but that’s all it is. He might have been better served to keep the writing credits, but give the directorial chores to someone more comfortable with the camera.

As is the case with all Heist Films, you wait for the last twist at the end, the big Last Revelation. You wait to see how clever the hero will be in outsmarting the villain. Instead of giving you that one big Last Revelation, Heist gives you one, then another, then another, and yet another! After a while, it becomes hard to figure out who is double crossing whom, and I have to admit I was a little bit surprised that I couldn’t predict the movie’s final Last Revelation. You got me there, David. Good for you. Too bad the rest of the movie was so “been there, done that, don’t want the T-shirt”.

David Mamet (director) / David Mamet (screenplay)
CAST: Gene Hackman …. Joe Moore
Danny DeVito …. Bergman
Delroy Lindo …. Bobby Blane
Sam Rockwell …. Jimmy Silk
Rebecca Pidgeon …. Fran Moore

Buy Heist on DVD