Heist – 2001

Written and Directed by David Mamet
Starring Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito, Delroy Lindo, Rebecca Pidgeon, Sam Rockwell, Ricky Jay

I miss Gene Hackman. He’s one of the greatest actors I have ever had the pleasure of watching. Heist is one of the last five films he ever made. It’s a verbal gem with a fantastic cast. This is helped, for sure, by the skill of David Mamet. If this film isn’t the best work of all involved, it certainly is enough to keep one’s interest, almost 20 years later.

The story is a series of thieving double crosses. Joe Moore (Hackman) is the leader of a ring of professional thieves who get their jobs from Mickey Bergman (DeVito). Mickey’s fencing operation provides the funds for an operation in New York. During the job, Moore is caught on camera. This doesn’t bother him, as he planned on retiring with his share with his wife Fran (Pidgeon). Before they can board the boat, Moore is blackmailed into running another sting.

Moore, Fran and partners, Bobby Blane (Lindo) and Don Pincus (Jay) are spectacularly efficient, but Bergman forces them to take along his nephew Jimmy Silk (Rockwell). This complicates things all around. Of course Bergman an Silk are up to something. So is Moore and his team. The question is who will strike last.

Hackman’s natural style works perfectly with Mamet’s prose. His dialogue is direct, sometimes crude, but never frivolous. Pidgeon, and especially the great Ricky Jay possess a special talent for the words and actions of Mamet characters. Nothing is a surprise, even if it is unexpected.

Heist had the misfortune of being released in the just before Ocean’s 11. This film is all substance and very little flash. Soderbergh’s remake has plenty of both. No one but me and my friend WeMissE were looking forward to it. My reviewing partner even got me a tie that Ricky Jay wore in the film. I treasure it to this day.

The pleasure one gets from seeing the winks, explosions of dialogue and quiet moments of Hackman accentuating the same qualities of Mamet is delightful all these years later. It’s one of the regrets of my life that I didn’t see the day coming that Hackman was going to hang it up. It’s a strange thing, because we all are accepting that people die. It’s kind of a special thing to know that the incredible skill expressed by Hackman had an expiration date, but the man decided to live beyond his craft.

I saw Hackman a few years after his retirement on an episode of Diners, Drive Ins and Dives. He showed up as merely a guest of the restaurant. He didn’t need any accolades. Just a meal. This will be an enduring memory for me. I am happy for my loss of Hackman’s presence in my life. He owes me nothing, and he’s paid in full.

Ricky Jay is in top form here. His nonchalance is a Mamet staple. He’s ahead of the game even when he’s under the gun. I miss the hell out of him, and honestly can’t imagine a complicated Mamet plot without Jay there, holding my hand while fleecing me with his other hand.

Delroy Lindo is a wonderful addition to the Mamet style. His intellect pops on the screen. He’s the perfect general of the operation. When he explodes, one knows something is going on underneath. We don’t see his real life until the last moment he is on screen.

I hate to do anything as dramatic as count to three but one, two, three.

One of the few characters out of place is DeVito. There never seems to be a connection between himself, the dialogue and other characters. Bergman there to be foiled. He doesn’t even feel like someone Moore would take seriously. Which, of course, Moore doesn’t. Rockwell seems more the person to watch for, and he fits right in, even if he’s not on the team.

Overall, this is a good, almost great film. There is not anything that stands out, and that is to the films benefit. As Moore says, when Fran tells him where he should be:

Fran Moore: Stay in the shadows.
Joe Moore: Hey, everybody’s gonna be looking in the shadows.
Fran Moore: So where’s the place to be?
Joe Moore: The place to be is in the sun.

Before one realizes it, the gold we’ve taken for granted is long gone.

(**** out of *****)

2 Comments »

  1. Yup. Great movie. Mamet’s movies are interesting, especially if you have read any of his (very rigid) theories on filmmaking, writing, plot structure. They certainly don’t have the sheen and style of many Hollywood movies, but they follow an internal logic and structure like clockwork and of course, his one of a kind dialogue. I watched Red Belt recently. Pretty good stuff.

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