Sunday, February 7, 2016

Film Review: Heist

"Heist"  **** (out of ****)

Master of deception.

Ask any con artist and they will tell you the trick of a good con is to distract you. The right hand never knows what the left hand is doing. As long as you, the sucker, is not aware of what is going on around all sides of you, you will be easily taken.

David Mamet's "Heist" (2001) is a nearly flawless masterwork demonstrating this concept.

Playwright, director and screenwriter, David Mamet, may be best know to audiences for creating stories dealing with cons and con artists. Most sheep (movie critics) declare the best movie he ever directed was his directorial debut, "House of Games" (1987). For example the late film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert, listed the movie as the best film of 1987. An honor he would never again bestow upon any David Mamet movie.

I have always been luke-warm to "House of Games". It was clever and did have interesting moments but it did not have characters the viewer could ever come to care about. There is too little of a plot and too many twist and turns. "Heist" on the other hand, along with "The Spanish Prisoner" (1997), for me are among Mr. Mamet's very best films. In the case of both movies Mr. Mamet has given the viewer something and more importantly someone to care about. There is an emotional investment in what the audience is watching. How will everything end up? Will the hero get away with it all? We ask because we care.

Joe Moore (Gene Hackman) is an old, professional thief. He knows his business. There is nothing Joe hasn't seen. Joe has all the angels figured out. But one day Joe makes a mistake. He and his crew attempt to rob a jewelry store in broad daylight. The plan nearly goes perfect except for the fact the store's security camera captures Joe's face. He's burnt he tells his crew. Whether he likes it or not this will have to be Joe's last job.

As with everything else in "Heist" things aren't what they seem and very little goes as some characters have planned. Joe may have thought retirement is in his future but his fence, Mickey (Danny DeVito) refuses to pay Joe and his crew; Bobby (Delroy Lindo), Pinky (Ricky Jay) and Joe's wife Fran (Rebecca Pidgeon) until they complete another job involving a Swiss bank. Joe tells Mickey he was seen on a security camera and has to go into hiding but Mickey won't hear of it. The plan has already been set in motion. Joe and his crew will have to go through with the heist as previously planned.

Some readers will immediately think to themselves "oh boy! Here is another one of those "last heist" movies". It is true Mr. Mamet and "Heist" go through a well known story-line; old criminal wants to call it quits but needs to go through one last heist before he can retire. "Heist" however is not a movie to be enjoyed because it gives the viewer something they have never seen before.

Critics of the movie have expressed the problem with "Heist" is it does not go through any new material for Mr. Mamet. It is the same kind of argument made against filmmakers like Woody Allen; he simply makes the same movie over and over again. In the case of both men the criticism is balderdash.

"Heist" may not break any new ground regarding its plot but it is well made. Mr. Mamet's dialogue is always a pleasure to listen to. The actors are extremely enjoyable to watch. Watching "Heist" the viewer should feel they are in good hands. In the hands of a man who knows this genre inside-out. They should not complain "Heist" is another con movie directed and written by David Mamet but feel confident here is man who knows how to tell these kind of stories.

Instead of categorizing "Heist" as a con movie some viewers may want to consider "Heist" as a noir movie. It may not seem to neatly fit into the genre as "Double Indemnity" (1945) does but "Heist" also deals with back room deals, double-crosses and a femme fatale in the Fran character. In fact it is the relationship between Joe and Fran which is one of the more interesting aspects of the movie.

You just never quite know what is real in "Heist". Are these events really happening or is it part of the con? Without revealing too much Joe decides to send Fran to speak to Mickey and Mickey's nephew, Jimmy (Sam Rockwell) to tell them Joe has decided to go forward with the Swiss bank job but the question more than once comes up is Fran playing Joe? What exactly is Joe and Fran's relationship? They are supposed to be married but they do not ever seem to show great affection towards one another. With leads us to the age old question in noir movies, can you ever trust a woman? Trust is a key question in any David Mamet movie. Do we ever really know anyone?

The one person Joe does trust however is Bobby. Their relationship is interesting because here are two men the viewer suspects have known each other for many years. They speak in a kind of code. Most of the characters in "Heist" speak in code. Only those "in the know" really know what is being said.

And that is one of the other great things about "Heist" - the fantastic cast and the wonderful interplay they have with one another. I don't know how believable Gene Hackman and Delroy Lindo are as con-artist, I've never met a con-artist, but they are sure entertaining. The same goes for Danny DeVito. He may not act the way a real fence would but Mr. DeVito gives a very lively performance and adds humor to the movie. Both Mr. DeVito and Mr. Hackman are well suited to deliver the cynical, short-hand dialogue Mr. Mamet writes.

David Mamet writes some of the best dialogue you will hear in modern cinema. It is said Mamet uses a metronome when he writes so his words flow to a certain rhythm. Viewer should love the intricacy of his choice of words. Everything is so deliberate. There is no excess in his dialogue. Everything written serves a purpose.

To be honest there are things in "Heist" which may have went over my head. I may have missed some things in "Heist". This is a movie you have to watch more than once. They may notice clues in the dialogue and the glances characters gives one another. This is a movie which makes the audience think. But, that is also the fun watching "Heist". There is a lot going on. This is not a cookie cutter, second-rate movie. This is top of the line entertainment from a truly gifted writer.

"Heist" was released two months after America suffered the worst terrorist attack in its history. In some ways it is interesting since here is a movie which tells us don't trust anyone. Be suspicious of everyone. People aren't what they seem. There was a lot of paranoia in this country shortly after what happened that September. "Heist" reflects that mentality.

I first saw "Heist" in a theatre when it was released. At that time I was impressed with the movie and eagerly declared it one of the best films of 2001. On my top ten list of that year I placed it in the number four spot. Watching "Heist" again, 15 years later, I find that I am incline to agree with my original assessment of the movie. In fact, if anything, I find that I enjoyed the movie more a second time around.