But movies like The Spanish Prisoner, Things Change, and The Winslow Boy display a roundness to Mamet's innate abilities. And it's almost a crime to witness how all of that goes awry in his latest film, Heist.
Heist twists and turns along the road of documenting the shady life of career jewel thief Joe Moore (Gene Hackman) and his posse of thieves -- Bobby Blane (Delroy Lindo) and Don "Pinky" Pincus (Ricky Jay). During a raid on a jewelry store, Moore ends up with his mug on the surveillance cameras and he goes on the lam from the local marshals. He decides to get out of Dodge with his recent bride Fran (Rebecca Pidgeon, looking like a cross between Sharon Stone and Joan Crawford), sailing into the sunset on his yacht. The only problem is that his fence Bergman (Danny Devito) has set up a big score -- The Swiss Job -- which he wants done so badly he holds Joe's cut of the jewelry heist on layaway until The Swiss Job is done. To ensure his faithful hound brings the goods home intact, Bergman tosses his nephew Jimmy Silk (Sam Rockwell) into Joe's crew for observation purposes. Things become complicated when Joe's wife has an affair with Jimmy, The Swiss Job turns sour, DeVito starts acting like his character from Ruthless People, and Ricky Jay starts looking for the exit to this mess of a film.
A Mamet production usually derives its success from a solid emotional attachment to its characters -- usually they've been wronged and are seeking justice or absolution. The naïve scientist from The Spanish Prisoner or the curious psychologist from House of Games were just decent people we recognize in our everyday lives. When those people get royally screwed over, its human nature to desire retribution. Heist lacks any such emotional attachment. Of greater concern is the recycling of plot points from Ronin (which Mamet co-wrote using an alias), dealing with a similar plot involving double-crossing thieves on the run.
To save the day, though, Heist carries some of the best actors working today. DeVito, Lindo, and Hackman chew up and spit out the scenery around them. Sam Rockwell -- who usually plays naïve and jovial characters in movies like Galaxy Quest -- plays Silk as cold, manipulative, and downright spooky.
But the main problem with Heist is how surprisingly predictable the story is. Unlike the similar yet far superior The Score, there's never any surprise during Heist's twisting. Mamet has just become lazy with this one. Everything about the film looks great, but there's nothing at all underneath.
Reviewed as part of our coverage of the 24th Annual Mill Valley Film Festival.
What happened to the script (above right).
Run time: 109 mins
In Theaters: Friday 9th November 2001
Box Office USA: $23.3M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Franchise Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Morgan Creek Productions
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 65%
Fresh: 83 Rotten: 44
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: David Mamet
Screenwriter: David Mamet
Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie brings a dark and gritty tone to this larger-than-life franchise. Along with...
With a spectacular setting and two solid actors on-screen, this thriller builds enough solid suspense...
Those bright sparks at Pixar have done it again, taking a fiercely original approach to...
Slick direction and meaty performances may be enough for some viewers, but this boxing drama's...
Loose and impressionistic, this beautifully shot film traces the career of a DJ who pioneered...
Without a single moment of originality, this found-footage horror movie really deserves to be the...
An intriguing premise keeps the audience gripped for about 20 minutes before the movie runs...