"Heist" (IMDb listing) shares essentially the same plot as last summer's caper "The Score." And whereas that film had Robert DeNiro, Edward Norton, Marlon Brando and Angela Basset, "Heist" has David Mamet and Gene Hackman. Even with a pair of chopsticks and a ball of twine, these two titans could work cinematic wonders. So it's not surprising that "Heist" is the strongest work for both talents in a long time.
Joe Moore (Gene Hackman) is a long-time thief who has just bungled a routine jewelry heist, endangering the safety of his partners, Bobby (Delroy Lindo), Pincus (Ricky Jay) and his wife Fran (Rebecca Pidgeon). Needing his take of the score quickly from his greedy fence Bergman (Danny DeVito), Joe is asked to pull off one more heist before he skips town. But this time Joe must take Bergman's associate Jimmy (Sam Rockwell) with him for the ride. Joe reluctantly agrees, and begins to plan out an intricate scheme to rid a Swiss airplane of its rather large cargo of gold bars. In true Mametian fashion, things go wrong, and it's not long before Joe is completely unsure about who to trust with the gold. Even those closest to him might be the first to stab him in the back.
The opening of "Heist" has the black and white Warner Brothers' logo from the "Casablanca" era of filmmaking. Nothing could spell out writer/director David Mamet's intentions more clearly then to open the film this way. Though the market has been deluged with identical thrillers like "Heist" for some time now, Mamet isn't interested in taking the audiences into new realms with bigger twists and superior technology. No, Mamet is on a mission to stick with the familiar ingredients and to make sure they're simply done correctly this time around.
Mamet is trying to resurrect the tough guy genre. To bring back the days when men shot first, a second time, then asked questions. It's dicey material to film, since recently there is a heist picture for every star in the sky. Mamet doesn't seem to care much, as he intends to not only focus on the bad boy antics, but to submerge himself back into the thick bog of hard-boiled screenwriting he has ignored for far too long now.
This requires Mamet to conjure up some of his best bad-ass dialog since the "Glengarry Glen Ross" days. "Heist" has its share of catchy one-liners (Jay describing Hackman: "That motherfucker is so cool, sheep count him."), but Mamet makes the entire production sparkle with the glee of a kept man who has just been allowed to play with his favorite toys. The dialog teems with pleasure, so much so I think I caught Gene Hackman smiling occasionally while delivering it. After a tedious stab at a costume drama ("The Winslow Boy") and last holiday's charming Hollywood satire ("State And Main"), Mamet's script for "Heist" is a reminder just how brilliant a writer he can be. Nobody else in the business could fashion the tough guys, the twists and the general confusion of the story in a way that Mamet can.
Even though I really found his supporting work in last spring's "Heartbreakers" hilarious, it is a kick in the pants to see actor Gene Hackman alive with tough-guy fury again in "Heist." Recalling his work in "The French Connection" films, Hackman tears through the picture like a house on fire. Joe's eyes burn with the years of larceny he's lived through, and his face refuses to show the disappointment when his plans go awry. It's a stellar performance from the veteran. Couple that with the Mamet dialog and you have an unstoppable force. Co-stars Delroy Lindo, Danny DeVito, and Sam Rockwell should thank their lucky stars that they can even catch up to Hackman. I applaud them for even trying.
David Mamet's "Heist" isn't the audience pleaser "The Score" was, nor does it have any intentions to be. An air-tight, corkscrew of a picture, this return to his roots should please Mamet fans, and even audiences looking for a little more gristle on their daily intake of heist stories.
Filmfodder Grade: A-