Movie Information

Genre: Crime Thriller
Director: David Mamet
Starring: Gene Hackman, Danny Devito, Delroy Lindo, Rebecca Pidgeon
Rated: R

It’s fast, it’s engaging, it’s clever, it’s occasionally suspenseful, it’s often very funny. Writer-director David Mamet’s Heist is nearly everything The Score wanted to be, but never was. In fact, plot-wise, it’s very much like The Score. Substitute Gene Hackman for Robert DeNiro as a master criminal forced into pulling off one last job and you have much the same thing. Of course, this is David Mamet at his most Mametesque, which — apart from more permutations of a certain four letter word than you can count — means that it’s a lot more insightful and even more sour. Where DeNiro was lured into his last job out of a sense of loyalty to Marlon Brando, Hackman is manipulated into his final outing by the double-crossing machinations of Danny DeVito. Mamet’s film works like an elaborate puzzle with one double-cross leading to another and then to a variation on that and then to another double-cross and so on. It’s fascinating and undeniably clever, but its cleverness ultimately hampers the film’s cumulative impact. By the last three plot twists, the viewer is so accustomed to the fact that the movie’s going to come up with a variant on what appears to be happening that the surprise is gone. By the time the film gets to the last such twist, it’s no longer much of a twist, since the viewer pretty much knows what has to happen based on what’s gone before. By then the movie — like much of Mamet’s catchy dialogue — is so self-consciously clever that its power is diminished. There is a certain satisfaction to the ending, but it makes Heist finally turn into an old-style caper movie winking at the audience. That’s not to say that the movie isn’t good. It’s very good indeed. What it isn’t is great because it trades a potentially shattering climax for a cynically “fun” ending. As entertainment, pure and simple, that’s fine, but there’s a tendency to expect more from Mamet — and Mamet certainly suggests that he’s to be taken more seriously than this illustrates. What Heist very much has going for it, though, is the brilliant ensemble playing of some world-class performers (including the unfairly maligned Rebecca Pidgeon, who usually gets short-shrift from critics who object to her status as Mrs. Mamet) giving voice to some finely-tuned Mamet dialogue. Yes, some of it is very self-conscious, but at least it’s clever and stylish and that’s something we don’t get all that much of these days. Savor it when you can. Movies with exchanges where the loser in a gun battle asks, “Don’t you want to hear my last words?” only to be told, “I just did” are not to be dismissed lightly. Hackman, DeVito, and Delroy Lindo are almost good enough that you overlook the too deliberate plot twists by the sheer force of their performances. You’re seeing pros at their full power and that’s something Heist never lets you forget. It’s a solid, well-crafted crime thriller with the accent on dialogue and performance, rather than on effects work and carefully choreographed violence. In fact, that violence in Heist is invariably refreshingly awkward and smacks of reality, not theatricality, and the film plays much better for this. It lacks greatness, but it’s certainly a worthwhile movie for enough reasons to justify giving it a chance.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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