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Sam North reviews David Mamets' clever new twister.
starring two-time Academy Award winning actor GENE HACKMAN, DANNY DEVITO and DELROY LINDO. Written and directed by Pulitzer Prize winner and Oscar nominee DAVID MAMET, also starring SAM ROCKWELL, REBECCA PIDGEON and RICKY JAY.

The plot is simple enough. An old actor is looking for a decent plot to take him out on a high - only who can he trust? Who will protect his reputation, will it work and will people come to watch. Well the actor is Gene Hackman and this year (2001) he made three movies back to back (and suffered health problems because of it) but he need not have bothered. One of these films was enough, because with THE HEIST and iwith him his late sixties, he has finally made the big score.

Forget this week's release of Behind Enemy Lines which is the film allegedly about Scott O'Grady shot down behind enemy lines in Bosnia. In this Hackman plays Admiral Riegart, commanding an aircraft carrier with his usual authority, but this is a movie directed by John Moore who has only worked on MTV and it's all good patriotic stuff, but something that will be quickly forgotten - even if successful at the box office.

Never mind the tonnage of other tosh that Gene Hackman has made over the years. By his own admission, he never knows which will be a success and which won't, but time after time, he always remains incredibly watchable. He has however made a few gems and given polished performances in thrillers and comedies that means his reputation and name will resonate down the years and means something to a DVD audience.

Hackman made a difference to Bonnie and Clyde, starred in the little seen Zandy's Bride, created the perfect Lex Luther in Superman, gave brilliant performances in The Conversation and The French Connection, was suitably right for the gripping Crimson Tide and was perfect in comedy for Get Shorty. There are hundreds of others, but you always remember his performances, that lived in face, that tight little smile and his supreme sense of confidence.

So he got really lucky teaming up with David Mamet who has given him a shot at the perfect starring role at the end of a long career. Of course Hackman won't stop, he will probably die on the job, I should think but he won't get another smart role like this.

The Heist isn't a blockbuster, though it opened to good business in the USA in November but it damn well gives value for money and that's pretty rare in movies right now.

Of course the actual plot is, you've guessed it, an old thief and boat builder, Joe (Hackman) has to do one last job before he retires with his young and pretty co-thief wife, seductively played by Rebecca Pidgeon. This is a great cast, well knitted together put up against a ruthless 'fence' played by Danny DeVito. (Coincidentally co-stars in Get Shorty) Delroy Lindo as Joe's partner and foil is excellent and playes with cool detatchment throughout.

No need to go into the story, or explain anything. You will go to see it and the less you know going in the better. There may well be a couple of robberies and lots of planning and arrangements, but this film is much more about personalities, plot twists and double twists. Who is doing what to whom and you can see everyone had a cool time trying to make it all pay off. Great dialogue, some puzzling, possibly inventive colloquial thief patter and lot's of sexual tension. It's all there. You watch as advantage swing towards one, then towards another, back and forth throughout the movie.
(At times it had shades of the Sting about it and that is no bad thing)
Like David Mamet's wonderful and funny last movie State and Main, you watch it for the lines and the comebacks and aren't disappointed. DeVIto is the same over the top acting, but somehow quite right for this role. Hackman is wary, but never weary, professional and convincing.

The Heist is about a big gold robbery at a small Boston airport, but mostly it is about trust and age. Is Joe's wife still trustworthy or has she changed sides, who can you believe. Who is going to end up with the gold and who is going to end up dead. When will the shooting start?
The Heist is a film that consistently surprises. It's a great movie and if Gene Hackman is looking for a swansong, this is it. Savor the moment.

© Sam North 2001

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