This movie isn’t very good. The previews and the impressive credit list make it look like it is good, and it should be a good movie. But it isn’t. Gene Hackman, Delroy Lindo and Danny Devito are all big time actors who give it their collective best in Heist, but all they have to fumble around with is Mamet’s turgid, quirky yet cookie cutter dialogue. During what should have been an otherwise tense climax, Hackman blurts out to Devito, “Kiss my Yankee ass!” It felt to me that Mamet was very aware that he is David Mamet and therefore the crooks have to constantly be saying witty tough guy things. And also things that are just slightly smarter than what we want to hear them say. Or stupider. Like when Ricky jay, the ugliest man in Hollywood, starts saying “Motherfucker” and “Cocksucker” you just don’t buy it. I felt like I was watching a walkthrough for a play.

This is one of those “triple-cross” movies where supposedly you don’t know who is on who’s side and who is going to get away with the gold in the end. Except that you know every inch of the outcome of every scene. Basically, whenever Hackman, the criminal mastermind and ringleader, spoke real loud he was lying. There was never any doubt that his crew really wasn’t breaking up, that the supposed fight they had about canceling the Swiss job was just a smokescreen to get rid of Devito’s cousin. I was less surprised about all the twists than the actors were up on the screen. And even though Hackman’s own wife double-crosses him, the members of his “crew” are as loyal as Chinese dogs. Oh, yeah, Mamet repeatedly prefaces metaphors in this movie with “Chinese” as an adjective. “As long as a Chinese last name” and “As cute as a Chinese baby”. Get it? Right, no one else does either. It is like he is trying to invent vernacular phrases. I guess all writers do, but it makes me as angry as a yak in heat.

Anyhow, Devito is an evil fence of some sort who makes Hackman and his crew agree to one more robbery before they all retire. Of course,it
would be too much for a writer or Hollywood to let us see a criminal in the prime of their career. Nope, all we ever get is “one last big score.” Which can be done well, like in Heat, but usually isn’t, like in Heist. We are expected to feel sympathy and some sort of protestant repentance ethos. Yes, they have been very bad men, but now they want out. A better life, etc. Anyhow, Devito, for no reason that is ever explained, insists that his really criminally inexperienced and constantly annoying nephew join Hackman’s crew when they go to rip off a Swiss airplane full of gold. This plot device is old and tired, and Mamet never even attempts to make it believable. A brash, young neophyte gets mixed up in the caper and this newcomer refuses to play by the grizzled old veteran’s rules. This of course really annoys the wiley old
professional who must constantly say lines like, “No way. I work alone.” Or, “Yeah, but can you trust him? How do you know you can trust
him? The only person I trust is me.” Of course, against his better judgment, the old pro must take on the bumbling rookie. See The Score with Deniro and Ed Norton if you want to know how to do this sort of thing reasonably well. Watch Heat if you are interested in what this device looks like worked out to perfection. If any of you criminals out there reading this are being pressured to take on a partner you are not sure about, shoot him. That’s how you’re sure.

As I watched Heist I just kept imagining a screenwriting class where the teacher says, “Introduce a whole bunch of interesting characters and then put them in the worst situation possible.” The movie felt very amateur, almost like a rough draft with incredibly loud explosions. Now that I think about the scene I was just talking about some more, it really bothers me. Would it have killed Mamet to have Devito say something like, “You gotta take my semi-retarded cousin Jimmy Silk (Sam Rockwell) along on your next heist because his mother is very sick and it would make her happy.” Or what about, “You gotta take my strangely retarded nephew Jimmy Silk along because I want him to learn the family business and I figure this is as good away as any.” Or even, “You gotta take my skinny-assed, bucktoothed, moustached and retarded cousin Jimmy Silk along on your next heist because I don’t trust you enough to do the job without trying to screw me.” Instead, Devito just says “Here” and Hackman just answers “OK”. Jimmy Silk joins the crew — hi jinks ensue. It is just sloppy. The whole movie is sloppy. As if we are expected to buy everything we are being fed because of the past brilliance of the writer/director. State and Main
Got real sloppy in parts, too. As if Mamet just thought that his past success will make the audience feel OK about his obvious and lazy

Here are more examples of the slop. During the first heist, where they easily steal a ton of Jewels, Hackman gets his face caught by a security camera. See, he had a mask in his hand, but if he put the mask on he would have had to kill a woman who for some reason didn’t drink her knockout poison latte like she was supposed to. If he keeps his mask off, then he only has to hit her with a stun gun. This establishes that Hackman’s character is an all right dude. You would want to have a beer with him, even though he’d steal your wallet and beat you unconscious with it. My point is, we are shown a major robbery and the police know what the perpetrators face looks like. So what does
Hackman’s character do? Another robbery!!! Of course only this time he does the robbery in broad daylight and at an inconspicuous place like an airport. Much has been made of Mamet’s Nostradamus like abilities, i.e. Wag The Dog predicting Clinton’s fidelity troubles (Took a real genius to see that one coming.) This time though, Mamet had his criminals take advantage of the low security afforded at Logan Airport, just like the 9/11 hijackers. I bet that one’s not going in his press kit.

By  the time this movie wraps up, you are tired and upset that there are so many holes in the plot. Mamet manages to have his characters talk more shit with guns pointed at their heads than Tarantino would. Mamet goes out of his way to show us the gold railings of Hackman’s boat. Only it turns out that – Surprise! – That’s not where the gold is hidden! Him and Lindo turned the gold into pipes and Hackman has them loaded in the back of his truck when suddenly nephew Jimmy Silk and Hackman’s wife Fran (Played by Mamet’s real life wife Rebecca Pidgeon), show up and rob him of his gold. Not!!! Hackman for some reason knew his wife betrayed him (Yawn) and painted a whole bunch of metal pipes black and really he the gold pipes in another truck, etc. By the end, I just felt like I had been at a magic show for too long, watching a magician beating his only trick to death.

Ruthless Ratings:

  • Film, Overall: 4
  • DVD Extras: 0, No extras at all. Nice and refreshing, actually.
  • Story: 4
  • Acting: 6
  • Direction: 3

Special Ruthless Ratings:

  • Number of cigarettes smoked, if applicable: I quit!!!
  • Number of beers drank: Stone sober although, I did steal some Paxil from my mom, but that’s for later.
  • Number of times movie was paused to do something else” Only
    once. I took a fifteen-minute nap in the middle. Sort of followed the
    same technique Mamet used to write it.
  • Number of times you found yourself enjoying the movie: 8 times.
  • Number of times you wished you had taken that screenwriting class: 40 times. This cast with a better script? Could be great…
  • Number of times the oppressive soundtrack made you reach for your knife: Wasn’t too bad, actually.
  • Number of times you imagined the director snickering to
    himself: Mamet, who is sort of like an intellectual for the masses,
    probably thought that this was a super special brilliant movie. He
    probably thinks that people who don’t get it are dumb. And he snickers
    at us.
  • Number of times your roommate laughed at you for spending $19.95 on a movie you had never seen: 3 so far.