Thursday, May 7, 2009

Counting Down the Zeroes 2001: Heist

Here is my second entry (fourth overall) for Film for the Soul's brilliant, and impressively exhaustive inventory of the films from the 2000's, Counting Down the Zeroes. The film I chose for my second go-round with the films from 2001 was David Mamet's underrated thriller Heist. And don't forget to check out the other fine entries at Film for the Soul.

Heist opens with a classic 1940’s black and white Warner Brothers symbol; setting the mood throughout that this is going to be a classic noir picture: haggard criminals who do "one last job", heists gone wrong, double crosses, double speak, brilliant actors who play bad guys that steal every scene they're in, and of course there's a femme fatale. Heist is also like those classic 1940's noir films in that it's heavy on attitude and style; it's a noir with filthy, wonderful Mamet language. David Mamet’s 2001 film is one of his least revered, and it’s understandable if you’re a Mamet veteran, than everything in Heist seems second rate compared to his much better films. However, I feel like Heist is one his most entertaining films: it has arguably his greatest cast spouting off some of his most hilarious dialogue (although State and Main gives this film good competition; and no I’m not counting Glengary Glen Ross because Mamet didn’t direct that.).

Heist is a typical Mamet film – a con on top of a con on top of a con, and I’ll be the first to admit that this is definitely his most convoluted thriller that definitely reminds the viewer of the better cons he’s pulled: House of Games and The Spanish Prisoner. If you’re well versed with Mamet and his con films, then nothing here will likely surprise you; and perhaps that’s where some of the backlash or laissez faire attitude comes from in regards to Heist. There’s still some fun “gotcha” moments that one expects from Mamet, and as always, the dialogue is hilariously irreverent, inane, nonsensical, and of course brilliant.

The story concerns Joe (played by Gene Hackman in on of his last truly great performances) a semi-retired criminal who seeks the good life because he’s been “burned” (caught on tape) after a recent jewel heist goes wrong. He’s accompanied by his team: Fran his wife (Mamet’s wife, and muse, Rebecca Pidgeon), Bobby (the always great-to-see Delroy Lindo), and Pinky (Mamet stalwart Ricky Jay). The group meets with Bergman (the invaluable Danny DeVito, who gives one of his best performances – the man was born to be in a Mamet film) and his nephew Jimmy (Sam Rockwell) to go for one last score: a Swiss airline is bringing in a ton of gold and they’re going to steal it.

And from there the typical Mamet plot conventions kick in. When they finally get to the big heist scene the plot is under a cloud of suspicion; a position that Mamet prefers the audience is in. The heist scene is wonderfully staged, but as is the standard with most Mamet films, you can never be quite sure if what you’re seeing is supposed to the real thing, or a magic trick, a clever ruse to fool the unsuspecting victims in the film. Therefore, some of the tension is subdued because Mamet veterans know that what you see is not what you get…so you’re constantly waiting for that “real moment” to happen. Still, it’s a damn fine heist scene (although my enthusiasm may be a tad tame since I just watched the greatest heist film ever made a few nights ago, Le Circe Rouge, so this pretty much pales in comparison to that film’s seminal, and masterful heist scene).

It’s no use trying to explain the intricacies (or contrivances) of a Mamet plot, so I think the best thing to do for the rest of the review is to give an example of why we all watch Mamet films in the first place: the insanely brilliant and nonsensical dialogue. Here are some of my favorite bits from the movie, enjoy:

Coffee Cart Man: Hey buddy. You forgot your change.
Joe Moore: [Takes the change] Makes the world go round.
Bobby Blane: What's that?
Joe Moore: Gold.
Bobby Blane: Some people say love.
Joe Moore: Well, they're right, too. It is love. Love of gold.

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

Bergman: “My nephew Jimmy Silk, yup, that’s who he is.”

Bobby: “You know why the chicken crossed the road, because the road crossed the chicken.”

Bergman: “Everybody needs money. That's why they call it money.”

Jimmy: So, is he going to be cool?
Pinky: My motherfucker is so cool, when he goes to bed, sheep count him.

Jimmy: No one can hear me.
Joe Moore: No one can hear what you don't say.
Jimmy: Hey, I'm as quiet as an ant pissing on cotton.
Joe Moore: I don't want you as quiet as an ant pissing on cotton. I want you as quiet as an ant not even thinking about pissing on cotton.

Pinky: It's a shame you know what, we didn't actually get to do the thing, the swiss job. It's a beautiful plan.
Joe Moore: Cute, huh?
Pinky: Cute as a pail full of kittens.

Pinky: Oh my, oh my. Go sell chocolates you Heidi-motherfuckers, go sell cukoo clocks, we got your gold!

Jimmy: How long has he been with that girl?
Pinky: What girl is that?
Jimmy: His wife.
Pinky: How long is a Chinaman's name?

Bobby Blane: Sometimes adrenaline gives people the shakes, some might think it's cowardice, so maybe you'd want to pray about it.
Jimmy: I'm not a religious man.
Bobby Blane: There's nothing wrong with prayer. We knew this firefighter, this trooper, who always caried a bible next to his heart. We used to mock him, but that bible stopped a bullet.
Jimmy: No shit.
Bobby Blane: Hand of God, that bible stopped a bullet, would of ruined that fucker's heart. And had he had another bible in front of his face, that man would be alive today.

Bergman: Where's the gold?
Joe Moore: In the heart of the pure.

Back to the film: The acting is great across the board here, and there’s no doubt that Danny DeVito was made to make a Mamet film. It’s too bad DeVito wasn’t around during the heyday of noir; he could have had a lucrative career playing the slimy crime boss. He has a great scene here where people start shooting each other and he wildly tells people to stop shooting because they can talk it out. It’s a hilarious scene that I can really only imagine someone like DeVito executing.

Gene Hackman is his usual great self, here, and really this film acts as a reminder of how much I miss seeing Hackman in films today. It’s too bad Hackman hasn’t really made anything since. He pulls off the beleaguered Joe really well, and he more than handles Mamet’s dialogue. It’s just a shame that this great actor retired with Welcome to Mooseport as his last film.

Despite all of the praise I’m throwing at this seemingly mediocre picture, it’s not as if I don’t understand the negative response towards the film. Perhaps the expectations were too high, though, and considering the last film he made of this ilk was the brilliant The Spanish Prisoner, I think it’s fair to say that some people haven’t given Heist a fair shake due to unfair comparisons.

I feel like this era of Mamet is one of his finest, and most underrated. In 2000 he made the fantastic comedy, State and Main, then followed up with this extremely enjoyable thriller, and then later came Spartan, a film I think is one of the most criminally underrated of the noughties (I know I’m probably alone in that camp, but I think the film is brilliant.).

Heist is a film that becomes clearer, not more ridiculous, upon second viewing, and that’s what I love about Mamet films – most films of this ilk worsen upon subsequent viewings because the holes in the plot become bigger, more noticeable; however, with Mamet’s con-game films, they become richer with each viewing.


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