it's easy to dismiss heist as a familiar piece of genre work, except that over the past few years the simple genre piece has become as endangered as the spotted owl. Producers think no one will be interested in something like an old-fashioned heist movie unless it boasts car chases, digital effects and assorted pyrotechnics.And, yes, Heist is a David Mamet film. People say "fuck" a lot, and everybody sets out to double-cross everybody else.
That's what Mamet does, and people who don't like Mamet's films should probably avoid this one the way people who don't enjoy movies that make you go "What the hell was that?" should avoid David Lynch's films.
Mamet has an almost unrivalled affection for middle-aged (and beyond) character actors, and Heist is packed with them. Gene Hackman plays an aging thief forced to take his crew out for one last, near-impossible score. Danny DeVito is the guy who double- deals him into it. Supporting them are the magnificently world-weary Delroy Lindo and cult actor Ricky Jay, the magician appreciated as an actor by a handful of directors, notably Mamet and Paul Thomas Anderson, who gave him the introductory voice-over in Magnolia.
If Heist operates in familiar territory -- the last big score -- it also captures in its actors an intense sense of unease. Mamet is very well acquainted with men whose bluster hides their terror, and DeVito's chatterbox is a superb portrait of a man operating beyond his means.
Hackman, of course, is one of cinema's treasures. If we condemn his remarkable lack of discrimination in his choice of roles over the past couple of decades, we should also note that he's never lazy or haphazard. In movies like The Firm, he gives better performances than the pictures deserve, and when given his shots at greatness, he takes them. His part in Heist is one of those turns that will be undervalued because it looks so effortless.
This is lesser Mamet, but if it's not nearly as ambitiously clever as The Spanish Prisoner, it's also a good deal less archly constructed. Mamet, who has become a very assured genre craftsman, gives his actors space to play and achieves a kind of grimy grandeur in a bleak landscape of betrayal.
Heist directed and written by David Mamet, produced by Art Linson, Elie Samaha and Andrew Stevens, with Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito, Rebecca Pidgeon, Delroy Lindo, Sam Rockwell and Ricky Jay. 107 minutes. A Morgan Creek production. A Warner Brothers release. Opens Friday (November 9). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 78. Rating: NNNN