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David Mamet takes this story of thieves along many twists and turns, some of which work and some of which don't. Gene Hackman plays the brilliant leader of a gang (Delroy Lindo, Ricky Jay & Rebecca Pigeon as Hackman's youngish wife), which pulls off complex heists for a despicable fence (Danny DeVito). After stiffing the gang on a jewelry robbery, DeVito forces the gang to go after a Swiss gold shipment and to use his nephew (Sam Rockwell) in the crime. No one trusts anyone and every step is shaded with the unexpected. Written by
John Sacksteder <firstname.lastname@example.org>
It's hard to go wrong with a story about clever criminals who must worry not only about the authorities but about the treachery of other clever criminals. Master thief Joe (Hackman) decides to call it quits after a profitable jewel store robbery in which his unmasked face is caught on camera. Trouble is, he's already committed to another, bigger job--stealing a gold shipment from a Swiss freight plane--for his fence & paymaster Mickey (Devito). Mickey won't pay off for the jewel job until Joe does the "Swiss thing." The film's first big flaw is that the animosity between Joe & Mickey, who are apparently longtime friends & associates, is never explained enough to justify why they are so willing to stick it to one another. This is a problem because Hackman's character is supposed to occupy the moral high ground (always important when everybody's a criminal) but, in the story, comes across at least as treacherous as Devito's. Fine portrayals by Hackman & Devito cover up rather than diminish this flaw. From then on it's all one twist after another, not all of which twist without leaving open holes behind. Will Joe do the job and, if so, end up doing it the way Mickey wants? Does Joe's supercool, Impossible-Mission crew (Lindo, Jay & Pigeon) trust him & stick with him all the way? Is Mickey's brash young nephew & protégé Jimmy (Rockwell), whom Mickey sends to watch Joe, really as cluelessly macho as he seems? Joe's heist plans ("cute as a pailful of kittens") are too complicated to work unless His Honor Judge Murphy is too sleepy to enforce his law. But they provide a marvellous venue for Mamet to work the lost magic of Welles & Hitchcock: developing characters through interaction & dialog. The supporting cast carries most of this task & does it very well, particularly thieves Lindo, Rockwell & Jay. Jimmy's pushy questions to the other thieves are met by cool, obfuscating questions in reply ("How long's he been with that girl?" "How long is a Chinaman's name?"). Pigeon is suitably hard-edged for this taut film, but a lone actress surrounded by so many tough actors has to bring something extra to stand out. Though he'll probably be best remember for "Hoosiers," and with respects to DeNiro in films such as "Heat" & "The Score," Hackman is the most accomplished actor in films such as this, whether as a cop ("The French Connection"), a private-eye ("Night Moves"), a technician ("The Conversation," "Enemy of the State"), a spy ("Target") or even an attorney ("Under Suspicion"). He's the top master because he rarely fails to score, even in films with plot holes, weak premises & contradictions, with his strong & convincing characterizations, the almost insane passion that lurks just beneath his plain Midwestern veneer. Fine production values, understated but effective actions scenes & an above-average music score help Hackman & Co. make "Heist" a watchable rather than forgettable thriller. Enjoy the portrayals & action but don't think too much.
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