As a writer David Mamet is one of the strongest people in his industry, but like so many very successful writers he’s not the greatest director in the world and his earlier efforts such as the muddled “The Spanish Prisoner” to the self-indulgent and pretentious “State & Main” have paled compared to the one Mamet film which I love every second of – the brilliant biting satire that is “Wag the Dog” (so far the only Mamet film I’ve realy fallen for).
“Heist” may not be up there with ‘Wag’ but its definitely one of Mamet’s best. The plot is very thin though that doesn’t matter as this is a character-driven drama filled with twists, shady/hard-edged characters, clever sequences and at times some truly great one-liners that are quirky but never forced.
While it deals with a heist, two in fact actually, these aren’t really about the robbery but rather Hackman and his relationship with a half dozen other characters in on the deal with him. The opening robbery sequence is great – relying purely on clever tricks and well timed gimmicks (such as Ricky Jay throwing himself in front of a car on cue) than cheesy explosions or flashy FX. Sadly the second major heist ain’t up there with the first, but once its over things get even more twisted.
The whole production has a very real and down-to-earth feel about it from the dressed down locations to the cynicism and bitterness of pretty much all its characters. Acting wise there’s not a weak link among them from Hackman to DeVito to Lindo and surprisingly even Rockwell, all the guys are solid though two personally stood out for me – the aforementioned Ricky Jay, and femme fatale Rebecca Pidgeon whose more twisted and dangerous than any of her male counterparts.
Its a very good thriller unwinding at a slow pace more reminiscent of 70’s movies, but is certainly not without its flaws. Mamet’s most famous signature writing style is the way he repeats dialogue – most of the characters seem to say their lines at least twice during the course of the film and repeat certain elements over and over to get it stuck in your head. In “Wag the Dog” it worked because of Hoffman’s wildly nutty character and situations such as the ‘brain storming’ session where the reptition felt natural.
In this on the other hand there’s times where these clever and very experienced crooks should quite frankly know better. There’s a scene between Lindo and Hackman where they basically scream about “doing the job” at each other for what feels like five minutes straight – one just wants to punch their lights out to get them to shut the hell up. At other times some of the more visible attempts at humour just aren’t funny.
The pace is kind of slow and does begin to drag towards the end. Still, all up this is a slickly made and clever drama which is surprisingly edgy and yet old-fashioned for a studio project. A highlight of the Pre-Oscar season.