Heist (2001) David Mamet

Production Budget: $39 million

Worldwide Gross: $28 million

Heist is about professional thief Joe (Gene Hackman).  Joe gets spotted during his last job and wants to leave town.  Joe’s fence Mickey (Danny DeVito) forces Joe to do one last heist of gold before he can leave.

This movie is a guilty pleasure for me.  There are criticisms of this movie which I acknowledge and with most other people I would be ranting about but for certain reasons I find this movie enjoyable.

The criticism I hear most about Heist is about the dialog.  Mamet is well known for above all else, being a writer of great dialog.  Much like my criticism about Coppola during Tucker: The Man and his Dream can be leveled at Mamet in Heist.  I basically said Coppola was either trying too hard with camera tricks or was having a masturbatory experience behind the camera which didn’t translate to any fun for the audience.  Here, Mamet is either trying way too hard to be clever with the dialog or is having some extended alone time with his own prose.  The prime example I think everyone has cited is:

“Everybody needs money, that’s why they call it money!“

That line makes no goddamn sense.  So why is it in there?  It is supposed to be some insight into the character that he thinks its witty or did the director just mess up or is it supposed to be so bad its funny?  And you end up killing your brain trying to unwrap what is, in reality, a stupid line of dialog from a smart writer.  What makes it worse is everyone talks like this.  Here are a few samples of dialog:

“My motherfucker is so cool when he goes to sleep sheep count him.  Do you know why the chicken crossed the road?  Cause the road crossed the chicken.  How long has Joe known her?  How long is a Chinaman’s last name? ”

I can certainly see people turning on the movie due to lines like that.  People have a certain level of suspension of disbelief and so they understand people talk more elequently than they would in real life.  But it reaches a point when every character is spouting cutesy bullshit that people reject it as too unrealistic.  Juno had the same problem when everyone talked in the same Diablo Cody hipster speak and some cannot get into Tarantino for the same reason.

It doesn’t help the ‘too clever for its own good‘ problem when there is plot twist after plot twist after plot twist.  Characters screw each other over and back stab each other every 10 minutes so I can see how people can have difficulty getting invested in a story so focused on pulling the wool over the audiences eyes.

And yet I enjoy this movie.

I’ll address the twist issue first.  For one, this is a movie about confidence men and scam artists trying for the big score.  This is the one instance where I think the audience should be expecting schemes within schemes within schemes.  In other movies and in other genres I can see frustration with a writer playing around with its audience but here it is almost a staple of this kind of movie.  Plus none of the twists are that crazy.  Within the context of this universe all the twists work and there weren’t any that had massive plot holes or seriously failed.

As for the dialog problem that is not something I can explain away as much as I forgive it.  It helps that you have a seriously talented group of actors like Gene Hackman, Delroy Lindo, Sam Rockwell, and even great character actors like Danny DeVito and Ricky Jay.  If you had a bland actor like a Paul Walker yes I would hate it more,  But when you have a person like Gene Hackman they can sell it with their charisma.  They can give a subtle smile or little ticks so show that its all in fun and not to be taken too seriously.

I am also a sucker for heist movies so maybe I am more willing to forgive it its faults because I am the target audience.  I just know many of these movies are about snappy dialog so I don’t really think of this as a super real world but one such as Brick where everyone talks as if they are in a 40’s gangster flick.  And while there are some groan inducing lines like the ones I highlighted, I think the majority is clever enough to overlook that.

All the same I do admit this is a guilty pleasure.  I’m a sucker for heist movies so I really enjoy it and I think other fans of that genre will too.  That being said it is a flawed movie and one I can’t easily recommend to casual movie watchers.  The dialog in this movie can drive people absolutely bonkers with how cute and clever it thinks it is.  This is also relatively minor work compared to other things Mamet has done.  If you haven’t seen anything by Mamet I would at least start with Glengarry Glen Ross.  Heist gets a reserved recommendation from me.


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