Written and directed by David Mamet, Heist tells the convoluted tale of an aging thief who's blackmailed into doing one last impossible job before he retires south with his pretty young wife.
Joe Moore (Gene Hackman) is a man who is good at what he does, and what he does is steal things; Moore's a professional thief. Things turn sour for him when he is on a jewel job and gets ''burned''--caught on security tape. Things turn really sour when Moore's fence, Bergman (Danny DeVito), won't pay Moore for the job so Moore can go into hiding. Instead Bergman blackmails Moore and his team (Delroy Lindo, Rebecca Pidgeon and Ricky Jay) to do another job, the well-worn cliché ''last big score.'' To ensure Moore will do the job, Bergman assigns his impetuous, inexperienced nephew (Sam Rockwell) to join the crew as a spy. Their plan to relieve a cargo plane of its Swiss gold unravels from there, the threads of which are as intricately woven as a Persian Rug. The plot throws more curves than Roger Clemens, and the final twist at the end will have you wondering just exactly who gets paid.
There's an extraordinary pleasure here in observing the sheer expertise of everyone involved: extraordinarily talented old pros (Gene Hackman, Delroy Lindo and Ricky Jay; deadpan femme fatale Rebecca Pidgeon; and treacherous gangsters Danny DeVito and Sam Rockwell, all vying for the loot and deftly navigating the complex set of double-crosses cooked up for them. If Mamet's words work well here, it's because Hackman, Lindo, DeVito and the others aren't shackled by his taste for emotionlessly precise line readings, the way Mamet regulars Joe Mantegna and William H Macy (even Pidgeon and Rockwell) sometimes are. The actors put a real spin on Mamet's speeches (and predictable line repetition) which are laced with venomous wisecracks and razor-sharp barbs.
As a writer, Mamet has few peers. As a director...well, did we mention that Mamet is a great writer? Heist is more commercial and less mannered than his earlier mind-benders (House of Games and The Spanish Prisoner), as the scenes are stark and uncomplicated but slick and well helmed. Mamet loves his dialogue, and loves his dialogue to be played flat, but has enough sense to give Hackman, Lindo, Jay and DeVito liberty to emote, adding sparkle to Mamet's prose. Speaking of dialogue--and what is a review of a Mamet film without copious mention of dialogue?--Heist may look like a contemporary caper, but the film was clearly conceived in homage to classic ''honorable criminals/dishonorable actions'' movies, especially with the use of hard-boiled vernacular. Mamet's dialogue crackles at times, just not often enough.
With a rip-roaring pace and some brilliant tough-guy dialogue, Heist is writer/director David Mamet at his best. Too bad that best isn't enough to make this movie better.