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(2001) (Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito) (R)

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Drama: As a veteran thief is forced to take on one last job, he must deal with his ruthless fence as well as the complicated details of the heist and possible betrayal by some of his crew.
Joe Moore (GENE HACKMAN) is a professional thief who's all set to retire with his younger wife, Fran (REBECCA PIDGEON), after his cover is blown during their latest jewelry heist. Unfortunately, his ruthless fence, Bergman (DANNY DeVITO), not only shortchanges Joe and the rest of his crew -- Bobby Blane (DELROY LINDO) and Don "Pinky" Pincus (RICKY JAY) - of their cut of the money, but he also demands that they take another job.

This time it's a shipment of Swiss gold and Bergman says he won't pay for the last job until they complete this next one. To make matters worse, the fence insists that his untested, unreliable and hotheaded nephew, Jimmy Silk (SAM ROCKWELL), be part of their team. While Joe is obviously reluctant since his face was captured on video during the last heist, he agrees to take this one and then retire.

From that point on, he and his team begin their intricate plan to seize the gold, all while never being quite sure if they'll succeed or whether one or more of their own might be turning against them.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Following in the tradition of various other "we love to watch the criminals because they're so proficient" crime genre films, "Heist" arrives with the standard array of such criminals pulling off the standard assortment of brilliantly conceived and executed heists. What isn't standard about it is the literary style of writer/director David Mamet.

A playwright turned screenwriter turned filmmaker of pictures such as "State and Main" and "The Spanish Prisoner," Mamet is known for his well-written, uniquely flavored and highly intricate dialogue that's a pleasure to listen to simply on its own.

While some of his earlier film work had somewhat odd and/or unusual rhythms and word use, such problems are pretty much gone now. The result are speech and vocal patterns that make the characters delivering them seem so much more interesting and even intellectual than most appearing in such films.

That's not to say that they come off as prim and proper, however, such as in some Merchant-Ivory film. Instead, they're often lowlifes, but the words they speak seem as intricately planned as the heists they mastermind and pull off.

Speaking of which, and like most entries in the genre, those are the audience pleasing moments where we enjoy discovering the details of their plan and are then entertained by them trying to execute it successfully amidst various forms of conflict and complications that inevitably arise.

Although one of those plans hit close to home in the wake of September 11th in the form of a hijacked plane on the ground complete with an innovative way to smuggle a gun through security, the scenes are nevertheless fun to behold and are the most entertaining material the film has to offer.

The many moments between them - namely the planning and reaction to events - while filled with that wonderful dialogue, aren't quite as entertaining or successful at mesmerizing the viewer. That's despite the various scenes where things ultimately turn out to be something other than what they initially seem, such as a group flare-up and apparent disbanding.

While such moments are moderately intriguing, they never quite reach that level of eliciting any sort of "wow" reaction from the viewer. Nor do they approach the level of trickery and double-crossing that many viewers will probably be expecting and/or hoping for a film such as this. That said, part of the film's fun is in not knowing how things will evolve or ultimately play out, and that's part of the hook that will keep viewers interested in the film.

The other is the great cast and the performances they deliver. While Gene Hackman ("The Royal Tenenbaums," "The Replacements") could make even the most mundane role intriguing - particularly if Mamet's words come from his mouth - and we've seen his sort of character countless times before, the actor brings something special and unique to the role that makes him fascinating to watch.

Mamet's real-life wife Rebecca Pidgeon ("State and Main," "The Winslow Boy") is as mesmerizing as ever playing the leader's less than faithful wife, and Delroy Lindo ("The One," "The Last Castle") and Ricky Jay ("State and Main," "Tomorrow Never Dies") are good as the other crewmates.

Playing the "bad" bad guys, Sam Rockwell ("Charlie's Angels," "Galaxy Quest") is as smarmy as ever playing the unwanted team player, while Danny DeVito ("What's the Worst That Could Happen?" "Screwed") once again embodies a ruthless and despicable character, but does so with such glee and intensity that he's fun to watch.

Although the ending is a disappointment and the film doesn't forge any new paths through the well-traveled crime genre, Mamet's terrific dialogue, some fun individual heist sequences and a stellar cast make the film moderately enjoyable and clearly easy enough to watch. Nothing tremendous but certainly entertaining in its own right and for what it's trying to be and do, "Heist" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed October 10, 2001 / Posted November 9, 2001

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