Stars: ** 1/2
Rating: R for language, gunplay
Run Time: 1 hour, 49 minutes
Arguably America’s greatest living playwright, David Mamet is the master of the smart, well-crafted plot and articulate dialogue so distinct it has its own designation – Mametspeak.
With the language and storyline firmly in hand, all that’s required are actors who can deliver Mamet’s stagy, eloquent words, rendering them fresh and convincing. Therein lies one of two significant problems with “Heist”.
On the surface, the story is a simple one that has been played out countless times onscreen. Jim Moore (Gene Hackman) is a gifted con artist who was burned (caught on security tape) on his last job. Time for Jim to hang it up and take his lovely wife Fran (Rebecca Pidgeon) on that worldwide sailing trip he’s been promising her. But Jim’s fence Bergman (Danny DeVito) isn’t making it easy for Jim to walk away. He’s got credit problems, and he’s blackmailing Jim into one last heist – the “Swiss job”. With Bergman’s cocky nephew (Sam Rockwell) on the job as security, Jim and his trusted henchmen (Delroy Lindo, Ricky Jay) set the professional gears in motion for a final extravagant haul.
The wordmeister’s staccato dialogue gives great momentum to the labyrinth of crosses and double-crosses that pepper the thieving landscape. Great verbiage aside, the red herrings, manipulations, and outwitting the outwitted boil down to too much of a good thing. Indelible characterizations get bogged down by Machiavellian maneuvers, and convolution reigns supreme.
As for Mametspeak – there are those who can and those who cannot. Hackman, Jay and Lindo can, with unassuming cool. DeVito, Rockwell and Pidgeon (Mamet’s real-life wife) definitely cannot. Pidgeon’s performance, as always, feels like bad Off-Broadway – melodramatic, self-conscious, and hyper-arrogant. (But I’ll cut her a little slack for permanently snaring one of our country’s brilliant minds). As a solid caper film, this will do. As a riveting David Mamet thriller, it won’t.