movie review by
Gary Johnson


(© 2001 Heightened Productions, Inc.. All rights reserved.)

Web site:

Web site:


Heist was originally scheduled as an early summer 2001 release. Then it was moved to August. Then October. And finally it reaches movie screens in November. In part, it's easy to see why Warner Bros. decided to delay the movie's release. Look no further than The Score, which starred Robert DeNiro as a thief who plans one last heist with the hope of then retiring. Heist stars Gene Hackman as a thief who plans one last heist with the hope of then retiring. Get the idea? And each movie gives us a younger thief (Edward Norton in The Score vs. Sam Rockwell in Heist) who challenges the authority and wisdom of his more experienced elder. In addition, both movies provide us with cantankerous business men -- the "fences" (Marlon Brando in The Score vs. Danny DeVito in Heist)-- who aren't telling the whole truth. As both movies pile on the twists and deceptions, nothing is as it seems.

Hackman plays a veteran thief/con-artist named Joe Moore. Joe has planned one last heist. In the movie's opening scenes, we see this heist go largely as planned--with one major exception: Joe is caught on camera--without his mask--by the security system. Now his face is on the nightly news. His fence, Bergman (DeVito), takes advantage of the situation and only offers a fraction of the agreed upon value for the loot. This sets up a battle of wits between Joe and Bergman, who insists Joe do a job that he has his eye upon. But how can Joe trust Bergman or Bergman trust Joe? So Bergman sets up his own lieutenant in Joe's camp, a young know-it-all named Jimmy Silk (Rockwell) who has no respect for Joe's experience. Rounding out this cast of characters are Delroy Lindo and Ricky Jay as members of Joe's team and Rebecca Pidgeon (Mamet's real-life wife) as Joe's young wife Fran. This situation becomes even more complicated when sparks start to fly between Fran and Silk.

Screenwriter-director David Mamet built his early career with biting, realistic stage plays such as Sexual Perversity in Chicago, but he isn't new to crime thrillers filled with intricate plot twists. His House of Games (1987) plied some of this same territory with its Chinese box of revelations. But Heist isn't in the same category as this early Mamet thriller. While Mamet's strength has always been his dialogue, the dialogue in Heist is uniformly forgettable and anonymous. While few writers weave such acerbic and stinging dialogue as Mamet, as in Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), his new effort is bland and generic. "He's so cool when he goes to bed sheep count him," says Ricky Jay about Joe, and that's about as good as the dialogue gets.

It's no surprise Warner Bros. proved reluctant to release the movie in the wake of The Score (although The Score was a fairly predictable, by-the-numbers thriller in its own right). While Mamet's House of Games seemed surprising and original 14 years ago, since then Hollywood has piled on the crime thrillers, such as The Usual Suspects (the good) and Swordfish (the bad) and taught audiences to expect double, triple, and quadruple plot twists. The unexpected has become de rigueur. Ho hum. Heist burrows into this well-trod territory with little to distinguish itself from the pack, save the quiet, intense dignity of Gene Hackman in the lead role. But Rockwell is no Edward Norton and Devito is no Marlon Brando, so in most other respects The Score looks like a pale duplication. It's like Mamet and Hackman showed up at a bank with robbery on their minds and found the place had already been cleared out.

[rating: 2 of 4 stars]