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Movie Reviews

Heist

You can greatly increase your chances of seeing entertaining films by avoiding films that were advertised for eight or nine months before they came out. If the studio keeps pushing back the release date, it's almost always trying to find a soft spot in the cinematic market in which to place a low-quality film. So "Heist," whose posters and trailers have been making sporadic appearances since spring, would seem to be a bad filmgoing prospect.

But even skeptical moviegoers might suspend their suspicions when considering whether to watch "Heist." After all, David Mamet, master of the manly monosyllable, wrote and directed. Those he directed include Gene Hackman and Delroy Lindo, both carrying impeccable manly credentials, as well as Danny DeVito, undoubtedly cast to bring Hackman and Lindo's manliness into sharper relief.

And the plot seems foolproof: Joe Moore (Hackman) needs one last big score so he can retire to some southern latitude on his big, beautiful boat. Ripping off the people with the cash is easy, with the help of Bobby (Lindo), Pinky (Ricky Jay) and his young wife Fran (Rebecca Pidgeon, who is also Mamet's wife); completing the heist without getting ripped off by his partners proves much more difficult.

Bergman (DeVito), the fence, seems particularly anxious that this score get done, so much so that he threatens to shop Hackman to the police if it doesn't. And it's not like Bergman's proved himself particularly trustworthy in the past; he's holding out on giving Joe his share of the last job until he completes this one. Fran seems to be a temptation for every man who comes into the shop, particularly the ironically named Jimmy Silk (Sam Rockwell), an incompetent who Bergman sent along to make sure the job was done to his specifications. And the motives of Bobby and Pinky are called into question as well. The morass of backstabbings, lies, turnabouts and hidden agendas doesn't resolve itself until the final fadeout.

So why would anyone delay the release of this film for even a second? The problem is that with all the plot twists and turns, Mamet can't (or doesn't want to) find time to give us a reason to care about any of these people. Hackman and Lindo both have a glorious power nothing can take away—call it sheer testosteronal charisma—and the movie rightly centers on their characters. But Mamet's trademark terse, semi-poetic profanity doesn't give them room to establish motives or redeeming personality traits or anything, and the action itself shuns flash and panache so much that these characters seem muted as well. (Pinky has a niece who he loves, but you know she's just in there to be menaced by some evil dude eventually.) In addition, Pidgeon is not nearly as attractive as Mamet seems to think she is. It's a sweet error considering the relationship in which it took place, but certain characters go pretty far to feed the Pidgeon, and their actions make little sense to an unbiased viewer.

Halfway through "Heist," the cool, tense atmosphere established by Mamet's oblique plotting and dialogue and the manly lead actors evaporates; under the light of close inspection, there's nothing more than atmosphere there. The remainder of the film lays out its fiendishly complicated plot more than it does anything else, and it feels more like pieces of a puzzle snapping into place than characters doing anything we might want to care about. Mamet's dialogue doesn't help; lines like "Cute as a Chinese baby" are not improved by contemplation, and the mantralike repetition of the words "lame" (as a noun) and "burnt" eventually becomes nonsensical. Even when Mamet loosens up a bit for the climactic bloodbath, all you can feel are angles and schemes and (least forgivably) action-movie clichés, not anything alive or invigorating.

Mamet makes much in the film of how criminals are like actors in that they must disguise themselves and their intentions skillfully to accomplish their goals. If you watch this film, you'll probably agree at least that actors are like criminals, because Mamet and his men will have stolen eight bucks from you and given you not much in return.

 

WHY IN THE HELL WOULD YOU TAKE YOUR YOUNG CHILD TO THIS FILM? AND WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU REFER TO ANOTHER PERSON'S CHILD AS AN INANIMATE OBJECT? AN AMAZED INQUIRY

 

Yeppers, there was a couple at the screening of "Heist" with a small child. And, of course, that small child started talking when it became apparent that the men on screen did not mean each other well when they used a famous four-letter word over and over and over again. But instead of taking the child out of the theater as the parent at "From Hell" did, the parents stayed in their seats with the child.

Then a movie critic (NOT ME; someone I don't know but recognize) turned around and addressed them.

"Either shut that thing up or get it out of here," he said, loud enough for the entire theater to hear.

Something was said in response to the effect that the kid would shut up when he or she damn well felt like shutting up, you mother[etc.]ing bitch. This is probably the time to note that the father of this child was an absolutely huge man. The movie critic stood his ground, questioning the father's rightness in calling him a bitch and reiterating his direction to "shut that thing up."

I was not able to listen to the entire standoff, because I was supposed to write intelligent things about the movie when I got home, and this was way more interesting than anything that was happening in the actual movie. (Kudos to the always-estimable Robert Kahn for reporting much of the above dialogue.) All the same, based on what I heard, the small-child-bringing father and the movie critic deserve equal condemnation. The movie critic was well within his rights to politely request that something be done about the noise emanating from the young child. But it's hard to think of a ruder way to make that request, and to the extent that anyone deserves public verbal abuse, he deserved it. Someone else's incredibly negligent parenting does not exuse poor manners, as any manners maven will tell you. Nevertheless, the whole thing was pretty sickening.

 

This film's release was apparently delayed the last time because, after September 11th, someone apparently decided that it would not be entertaining to watch criminals breach our avation security systems. But it was delayed before that too! I swear.

 

All this tasty writing ©2002-11 by Andrew Lindemann Malone. All rights reserved.