Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Gene Hackman and David Mamet go on a dialogue-heavy crime spree

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The Nut Job has thinking back on our favorite heist movies.

Heist (2001)

It’s easy to get lost watching David Mamet’s crime movies—The Spanish Prisoner, House Of Games, Heist—because the crosses aren’t just doubled, they’re tripled, quadrupled, and twisted. (It’s no wonder Mamet loves to use Ricky Jay, the actor known just as well for his illusions, in said films.) Heist is as much about those reversals and personal relationships as it is about the actual heists, both of which are intricate, dramatic, and perfectly plotted. The first one, which introduces Gene Hackman, Delroy Lindo, Rebecca Pidgeon, and Jay as the consummate crime team, takes place inside a high-end jewelry store: The pieces of a meticulously plotted plan fall into place, with Don (Jay) and Fran (Pidgeon) running interference while the other two make off with the loot.


Things don’t go perfectly, though, and team leader Joe (Hackman) winds up on video surveillance. Cautious by code, he knows that means it’s time to retire, immediately. But his off-site partner, Mickey (Danny DeVito), won’t let that happen, blackmailing Joe and his crew into the fabled “one last score”—the heist of a shipping container filled with gold from an airport. In order to insure that Joe won’t double-cross him, Mickey sends his nephew—played by Sam Rockwell—along on the job.

Though it tries to present the whole situation as awfully serious for Joe, Heist can’t help but having some fun with the ultra-elaborate heist itself, which involves no brute force but lots of planning and misdirection. (And, though it goes unmentioned, a pretty incredible amount of luck.) Hackman gets to do that Hackman twinkle occasionally, though he mostly maintains the poker face of a guy who’s always one step ahead of the game. Right down to the wire, though, it’s not clear exactly where things are headed or who’s playing whom. (American Hustle might owe a little something to the Hackman-Pidgeon relationship.) It’s not necessarily the most satisfying heist movie out there—it’s occasionally too hard-boiled and self-serious for its own good—but Heist at its best moments is a puzzling pleasure.

Availability: Heist is available on DVD, which can be obtained through Netflix, and to rent or purchase through the major digital services.

Share This Story