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Starring: Gene Hackman, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ricky Jay, Delroy Lindo, Danny DeVito, and Sam Rockwell 
Written and directed by David Mamet 
Cinematography by Robert Elswit 
Music by Theodore Shapiro 
Warner Brothers/Morgan Creek Productions 
Running Time: two hours 
Rated R for violence and language 
Web site: www:heist-movie.com 

The Big Con movie is sort of like a puzzle film. The audience draws its pleasures from trying to figure out what's going on, as well the inevitable but still glorious surprise at the end when we find out what was really going on. From this year's The Score to David Mamet's House of Games to the granddaddy of 'em all, The Sting, the Big Con genre works best when it's fooling the audience along with the mark.

What's interesting about Mamet's newest film, Heist, is that finds its strengths (of which there are many) in very different places. The con itself is so convoluted and the conclusion so ambiguous that those aspects aren't terribly satisfying. But the movie works in spite of itself, due to the fantastic cast and Mamet's crackling dialogue.

Gene Hackman and Delroy Lindo join Mamet regulars Ricky Jay and Rebecca Pidgeon as a small band of highly sophisticated thieves. When the movie opens, they're setting up a jewelry store heist, which involves Fran (Pidgeon) spiking the coffee of the store's employees while Pinky (Ricky Jay) sets off a small bomb to create a diversion. While the cops are taking care of that, the others bust into the store and make off with hundreds of thousands of dollars in precious stones. Unfortunately, something goes wrong and Joe (Hackman) has to take off his mask, thereby exposing himself to the surveillance cameras. Which means his number's up, and it's time for him to get out of the country.

That's ok with Joe, though. He had been ready to retire anyway. But that hits a snag, when the group's financier and fence Bergman (Danny Devito) refuses to give them their share of the money unless they do one last job--rob a Swiss airplane that's carrying bars and bars of gold. To insure they carry through, he sends along his irritating nephew (played by Sam Rockwell) as a baby-sitter.

You can probably take it from here. Joe and his partners have to devise a way to actually pull off the heist while also screwing Bergman out of his cut and yet still make it out of the country. It's a difficult series of tasks, and it requires a complicated (and convoluted) con. Fran and Joe are married (the audience is politely requested not to notice the enormous age difference) and the fact that the nephew has taken a liking to Fran is both a distraction and an opportunity.

The movie's first hour is simply fabulous, with great actors serving up their lines with gusto. Early on in the film, Hackman and Lindo are talking, and Hackman asserts, "Gold is what makes the world go round." Lindo responds, "Some people think it's love."  Hackman pauses for a second and quips with a wry smile on his face, "They're right too . . . it's love of gold." Later on, there's a wonderful exchange which ends with the line "Rob from the rich. Why you'd want to rob from the poor escapes me." As with all of Mamet's brilliant dialogue, it's a line that is both funny in its construction and its blistering truth. I'd never considered that old Robin Hood quote, but suddenly the thought of stealing from anyone but the rich sounded like the dumbest thing possible.

Not all of the dialogue in Heist cuts so close to the bone. Danny Devito delivers possibly my favorite line in all of 2001: "Everybody needs money .. . that's why they call it money." Well, if you stop to think about it, that doesn't make any sense at all. But as Devito roared it into the phone, the audience I was in roared with approval.

I should point out that those bothered by excessive language might need to take a pass on Heist. As with all of Mamet's films, there is a significant emphasis on four-letter words. Though it should also be pointed out that, with the possible exception of Quentin Tarantino, nobody uses swearing more effectively than David Mamet. Don't get me wrong--I'm not condoning swearing (you can delete that hate mail right now), but I do think there's a difference between mindless and repetitive swearing and the well-timed epithet.

It's hard to describe how good Heist's cast is. Gene Hackman (you know what movies he's been in), who's only getting better with age, is simply fantastic. Sensing that maybe the role of an aging con man heading to retirement isn't that far off from his own situation, he embodies the smart weariness that appreciates who your friends are and ignores everyone else. His relationship with Delroy Lindo (Cider House Rules) feels exactly right, and Lindo handles his role with a quiet power. Ricky Jay (Magnolia) and Rebecca Pidgeon (State and Main) don't have as much to do, but they're certainly up to the task. But possibly the best part of Heist is when Danny Devito (LA Confidential) is on the screen. His verbal sparring with Hackman provides one of those great movie moments when two screen legends get to show off their chops.

Unfortunately, that doesn't happen as often in the film's final hour. Once the heist gets under way, the dialogue has to take a back seat. Furthermore, the big con is both obvious and confusing, a strange combination. We know what's coming, and yet the resolution is too convoluted to be satisfying. Then the film takes an unwelcome and unnecessary turn to violence via a huge shootout. It's as if Mamet couldn't figure out how to pull everything off, or maybe he just felt like thumbing his nose at the audience's expectations.

Despite that noticeable flaw, Heist has enough pleasures to entertain any adult audience. And the chance to see Hackman, Lindo, and Devito working together should not be missed. 

J. Robert Parks 11/5/2001

The Heist tends to be talky, especially from Lindo's character, who can't seem to do anything without a speech.  The best parts of the film are the gang getting away from a robbery. Ricky Jay (House of Games), a real life sleight-of-hand artist, steals his scenes as a person who knows how to cause a distraction at the right time.  The movie alternates between preachy (Delroy Lindo's character) and technical (the airport robbery).  Chopping dialogue here and cutting scenes of moving equipment there, would have tightened this film. Also, David Mamet's direction boxes scenes into acts with uneven transitions. 

Rebecca Pidgeon is effective as a woman who can talk her way out of any situation.  Sam Rockwell (Charlie's Angels) is the actor I have a problem with; he fades into the background when on screen with Gene Hackman, who dominates the film.  Rockwell's moustache looks so fake you keep waiting for it to fall off. A bad sign.  In the end, it is Gene Hackman's film, especially the scenes when he is on a boat.  This is reminiscent of The French Connection.  Hackman's wry smile and low chuckle do more than ten pages of dialogue. 

Copyright 2001Marie Asner 
Submitted 11/25/01 

 

 
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