In David Mamet's 1987 House of Games, the con-artist Mike (Joe Mantegna) explains to psychologist Margaret (Lindsay Crouse) the basic principle of beating the confidence game: "Don't trust nobody." It's a bit of advice Mamet fans might want to take as well aside from being known for his unique dialogue, the Chicago-based playwright is America's foremost dramatic proponent of the old-fashioned swindle. From his stage plays (American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross) to his film projects (The Spanish Prisoner, House of Games, Things Change), the world of Mamet is all about sucker bets, elaborate frauds, and big scores and anybody dumb enough to get taken is just another mark. Many of Mamet's better-known screenplays concern secrets, lies, and high-stakes bluffs as well, including Wag the Dog, Ronin, and The Postman Always Rings Twice. Thus it came as no surprise that the writer/director delivered a new film in 2001 simply called Heist and while it may not add anything radically new to the Mametian oeuvre, it's a caustic little thriller that will entertain Mamet admirers and newcomers alike. Gene Hackman stars in Heist as Joe Moore, a boat builder who also happens to be a veteran criminal, often in partnership with fellow crook Bobby Blane (Delroy Lindo). Financed by cantankerous crime boss Bergman (Danny DeVito), Moore takes down a large jeweler with Blane, expert con-man Pinky (Ricky Jay), and wife Fran (Rebecca Pidgeon), but he accidentally is caught unmasked by a security camera. Knowing he's "burnt," Moore plans to take his cut and retire in the Caribbean, but Bergman holds it over his head, insisting that he complete one final job the seizure of a gold shipment from a Swiss cargo jet. And to make sure Moore doesn't disappear before splitting the score, he insists his nephew Jimmy Silk (Sam Rockwell) join the crew. Moore agrees, but it's only a matter of time before he plans his own double-cross although he can't be entirely sure which members of his team are loyal to him and not playing their own angles.
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In addition to the con-game, David Mamet fans always approach his new films anticipating the somewhat inexplicable "Mametspeak." While some folks insist that Mamet's scripts are alternately artificial or incomprehensible, his rhythmic mix of street patter, repetition, metaphor, and vulgarity is distinctive, and always yields fun surprises. Some are memorable lines ("She could talk her way out of a sunburn," Moore says of his attractive wife Fran; "Everybody needs money that's why they call it money!" insists the garrulous crime boss Bergman), while a few longer scenes erupt into high-volume Mametian marathons (an argument among the crew after they think the operation is blown is among the more memorable). But even David Mamet knows that you can't make a crime film without a big set-piece, and the renowned scenarist renders the gold theft on the Swiss jet in relative silence, letting the con-job do all of the talking and even saving a twist or two for later. However, what makes Heist a special film among Mamet's long list of credentials are two actors: Gene Hackman and Danny DeVito. Neither are from Mamet's regular stable of thespians (which includes Ricky Jay and Rebecca Pidgeon in this outing), but their presence increases the octane-rating. DeVito is a perfect choice for Bergman, spewing half-witted venom with every word. As for Hackman, he's definitely in his "A-mode" persona as the inveterate thief who's quick to temper, but never willing to show his hand until he knows he owns the score.
Warner's DVD release of Heist features a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with solid Dolby Digital 5.1 audio that showcases the energetic score by Theodore Shapiro. However, the only extras are the theatrical trailer and cast notes. And that we regret to say is downright criminal. Snap-case.