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Heist announces itself as a film in the long tradition of robbery caper films and it delivers what it promises. Many directors have tried their hand at heist movies, from Stanley Kubrick (The Killing) to Nicholas Ray (They Live by Night) to Michael Mann (Thief). More recently Sexy Beast put its own spin on the genre.
Within the basic tension created by the planning and performance of a robbery, there are themes that seem to return repeatedly: the perpetrator intends this to be his last job, the one that will allow him to retire to some tropical beach. Or the thief is dragged out of retirement for one last job. Then there’s the double cross–greed pits one thief against another. And, more often than not, a woman gets involved in the game of changing loyalties.
This Heist has all those ingredients, but it is unmistakably the work of David Mamet. In his virtuoso 1987 film House of Games Mamet played with an unfolding scam, peeling away one level after another, each time shifting perceptions about who was doing what to whom. Heist has some of the same feeling, but it’s more linear, following the story of a band of master thieves headed by Joe Moore (Gene Hackman) with sidekicks Bobby Blane (Delroy Lindo) and Don Pincus (Ricky Jay). They’ve partnered with Bergman (Danny DeVito), their fence, who financed their scheme to rob a jewelry store. But Bergman holds back the spoils and pressures Moore to do one last job. Bergman sends along his nephew, Jimmy Silk (Sam Rockwell), for insurance, but Silk is a cocky amateur in a group of slick pros–and he has eyes for Moore’s wife (Rebecca Pidgeon).
Heist follows the complexities of the second job while the twists and turns of changing loyalties keep the audience guessing at the outcome. While some may label it "predictable," that rather misses the point–Mamet is playing with the formula and a long tradition; it’s the savvy with which he tells his story that makes Heist one of the most entertaining films of the year. The exposition of the intricate plot is clear, the characterizations are quirky and fun, and the entire cast is first rate.
Most of all it is Mamet’s dialogue that puts his indelible stamp on the proceedings and all the elements of his style are there: short, staccato, sometimes enigmatic statements; repetition of phrases; questions answered with questions; quick repartee, often in a putdown mode. But, where occasionally in past films that kind of dialogue was so heavily stylized that it became stilted and worked against his purpose, in Heist Mamet finds just the right balance and his cast delivers with finesse. He also avoids sentimentalizing or glamorizing the material, keeping it dry and always with an ironic edge.
Production values are strong, emphasizing neutral colors to suggest a noir atmosphere. An active, but not jumpy, camera and lots of close-in shots enhance a sense of immediacy, heightened further by Theodore Shapiro’s energetic, well modulated score.