Ok, there are Heist fanboys out there, so hopefully I don't upset as many people as I did with my Apple iPad review.
David Mamet is such a giant in the screenplay world with films like Ronin, Wag the Dog, Glengarry Glen Ross and The Untouchables under his belt, that it's a total mystery he's the writer/director behind this clumsy mess (though he's apparently slated to make Joan of Bark: The Dog That Saved France, so maybe his winning streak is over). In fact, even ignoring the tired and flawed plot, for a man renowned for being one of the best dialog writers in the business, I'm still reeling from the clunky lines delivered by usually-solid actors.
Plot-wise, this is a "one last job for a retiring thief" heist that lies somewhere between The Score and Confidence. Gene Hackman plays himself again as the architect of a robbery behind "quite a bit" of Swiss gold from an airplane, in cohorts with Danny Devitos fencing crew. In between, pretty much every character betrays and befriends every other character constantly throughout the film, so that by the end the only person you can trust is the guy who owned the coffee shop at the beginning. If these guys used Facebook, it would non-stop friending/defriending almost every scene.
Here's what wrong with the film, in my humble opinion:
Critical set pieces rely on an near-telepathic prediction of events - at the beginning, Rebecca Pidgeon's character works in a coffee shop, so she can drug the four workers in a jewelry store, all of whom happen to drink coffee - and then drink it at the same time. It's really fortunate she got to serve those customers at that exact date. Later, Hackman gets into an airport by knowing the exact location and actions of a guard drinking on the job.
Those same setups are unnecessarily complicated. So they set off an explosion in the first scene as a 'diversion', even though they can walk into the store with everyone drugged and asleep. They simply attracted the cops for no reason. In the second instance, they smuggle a gun through an airport metal detector, even though they manage to wire a bomb at the end of a runway and drive their getaway truck onto the airfield unnoticed. Why not just put the weapons in the back of the truck?
Sam Rockwell falls for the switch-and-bait not once, but twice.
There's no tension or peril for Hackman's crew - each procedure is executed flawlessly, so you can grab a coffee and never worry about if they'll make it.
The film happens in a world where the police are either absent or stupid, and actually stupidly absent when explosions are detonated in busy streets and airports. And apparently State Troopers are consistently unable to do their jobs in the face of Hackman's charm.
Secondary characters, like Ricky Jay's niece, are introduced way too late as a cheap way to present motivation. The violence of his later death doesn't suit the tone of the film (if you've seen Confidence, I think they handle this much more fluidly).
Back to the beginning, there's no logical reason why Hackman doesn't wear a mask like the rest of his team, other than to create a situation where he could get identified by police due to the security tape. Of course, later on he walks by police endless times and they never notice him, so it doesn't lead anywhere.
The editing adds to the confusion. Clever editing can really transform average scenes but in this case it seems to highlight the plot holes.
After the heist, Hackman walks onto the crime scene posing as some guy whose shipment is on the plane, and they let him wheel it off. Really?
There's a subplot involving a cheeseball guy in a Ferrari trying to buy his boat - this serves no purpose to the movie and could have been cut.
The dialog is written to be clever but comes across as stilted and strange - or just plain unnecessary. Such as these gems:
Jimmy: No one can hear me.
Joe Moore: No one can hear what you don't say.
Jimmy: Hey, I'm as quiet as an ant pissing on cotton.
Joe Moore: I don't want you as quiet as an ant pissing on cotton. I want you as quiet as an ant not even thinking about pissing on cotton.
Fran Moore: Cute plan, though.
Joe Moore: Cute as a Chinese baby.
Ok? Or these ever-so-clever-in-a-student-film-sort-of-way lines:
- "You know why the chicken crossed the road? Because the road crossed the chicken. "
- "Everybody needs money. That's why they call it money. " - "I came all the way from China in a matchbox."
Overall, this is quite a disjointed mess that doesn't represent David Mamet's best work at all. Of course, it has a real following so I'm prepared to take my beating now.