Published Sep 01, 2001
Pay attention. Do not blink, sneeze, talk, or rustle candy wrappers. You will miss something crucial so hold your pee.
The title lays the plot out. A group of thieves are out for the big score with a hands-on fence, Bergman (Danny DeVito) breathing down their collective necks via his nephew Jimmy (Sam Rockwell) installed in the crew. The leader, Joe Moore (Gene Hackman) says this will be his last job so he can retire with his wife (Rebecca Pidgeon) and sail around the world. His partners in crime have similar ideas of what to do after work. This is a big Swiss deal and the plans are detailed, but while they may be thick as thieves, the honour amongst them is suspect.
Director and wordsmith David Mamet ("Glengarry Glen Ross," "The Spanish Prisoner") proves his mastery of both crafts. The dialogue is smart and tight as the tension that he builds into the film. Everything and every word have a purpose and therefore demand your attention. The interest is high in his economy of language. So economic in fact he knows when to use it and when not. Mamet does not pander to the conventional Hollywood wisdom that says emotions are cued by bad music. He cannot be accused of contributing to the illiteracy of North American filmgoers as he puts such weight on semantics. His audience must simply pay attention to what is being said and how. It's all there, but take nothing for granted. "Heist" is a maze of sleight of hand leading you along and jerking you aside.
The acting is solid. In particular is Ricky Jay who in his doddering and quiet demeanor has so much up his character's sleeves he has his shirts custom-made. DeVito, who is usually on my list of actors to avoid, is great as the unforgiving bad guy. Hackman delivers his usual superb performance as does love interest Pidgeon. Even if his character Joe has a wife young enough to be his daughter (a recent disturbing trend in Hollywood), it all adds up. Mamet has a reason for this so stick with it. He reputedly uses a metronome so his actors' delivery is as measured as his words. From the seamless timing of movement, he appears to have used it on the set, as everything is smooth and even.
So hold off on the large drink, finish the candy during the trailers and go before you leave. You don't want to miss a beat.