2001, R, 110 min. Directed by David Mamet. Starring Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito, Sam Rockwell, Delroy Lindo, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ricky Jay.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 9, 2001
It was a genuine surprise to arrive at the free, public screening of Heist and find a huge line already queued and waiting impatiently outside. It was a double screening, actually, the same film on two screens, something the studios usually reserve for presumed summer blockbusters such as Pearl Harbor or sure-fire holiday fare like The Grinch. When did the American movie-going public get hip to David Mamet? Did I miss something? I mean, Mamet's most recent film, the dialogue-heavy Lakeboat (which he scripted but did not direct), was so poorly received by moviegoers that its single-screen run at Regal's Arbor 7 was canceled outright. Maybe Heist co-star Ricky Jay's new coffee-table tome Jay's Journal of Anomalies has somehow rocketed the pudgy card sharp into a whole new strata of public awareness, but I doubt it. What's good for Mamet, however, is usually good for film lovers, and Heist, a somewhat more mainstream version of the director/playwright's usual tangled skein of double-crossing lowlifes and choppy dialogue so lean it could be fed to a vegan, is a keeper. It starts with a literal bang, as professional thief Jim Moore (Hackman) and his crew take down a Boston jewelry store amid a dizzying display of criminal sleight-of-hand and near-comical diversionary tactics. Jim and the gang -- composed of right-hand man Lindo; wife (and real-life Mamet squeeze) Pidgeon; the comical Jay; and impetuous, baby-faced fuck-up Rockwell (Galaxy Quest) -- are subsequently ripped off by DeVito's criminal boss, who takes their score and urges Jim to reassemble the group for one more job before he'll let the poor schmo retire to the Bahamas like he wants. Yes, it's the hoary “One Last Job and Then I'm Outta Here” bit that we all know and love so well, and in different hands this could have been just another by-the-numbers yawn-o-thon. This is Mamet, however. So Heist, while not perfect, is miles beyond similar fare (this year's Swordfish comes to mind). Mamet's specialty is fractured people, and so this is really just a character study wrapped in an oversized, heist-flavored, Egg MacGuffin. Double- and triple-crosses abound, and by the time Jim and the gang pull off that one final job, it's far more about the relationship between Hackman and Pidgeon than it is about some glittering gold bullion. Heist is machine-like with its intricacies of plot; it's a Rubik's Cube of nefarious dealings, and it's a gas to try and second guess the stylish hoods up on the screen. Mamet has toned down the staccato and stagy rhythms of his dialogue, but there's still no mistaking this film for anyone else's: “My motherfucker's so cool that when he goes to sleep, she count him,” says Lindo. It's 99 and 44/100% pure Mamet all the way.