from Film Forum, 11/15/01
Heist's title is straightforward about the movie's subject. Writer/director David Mamet (State and Main, Wag the Dog, Glenngarry Glen Ross) gives us an accomplished husband-wife team of thieves (Gene Hackman and Rebecca Pidgeon) determined to get away with the loot after the dastardly Danny Devito double-crosses them. The nature of evil is on full display: these wicked men and women cause increasing distrust, double-crossing, lying, cheating, and violence until the whole affair comes apart at the seams.
The USCC's critic wasn't offended, but wasn't engaged either. "Mamet's intricate plotting telegraphs its many double-crosses while the soulless greed of every character leaves the viewer unengaged by their murderous mission."
Others had similar objections. "The con itself is so convoluted and the conclusion so ambiguous that those aspects aren't terribly satisfying," says J. Robert Parks (The Phantom Tollbooth). "But the movie works in spite of itself, due to the fantastic cast and Mamet's crackling dialogue. It's hard to describe how good Heist's cast is … the chance to see Hackman, Lindo, and Devito working together should not be missed."
Many critics in the religious media believe the film condones evil. Mary Draughon (Dove) is dismayed that "Viewers are expected to sympathize with Joe and his loyal team who are very willing to maim and kill. Heist's use of violence to entertain, filthy language, and glamorization of crime earn a failing grade."
Mamet's famous writing style draws acclaim from almost every critic that reviews the film. Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "The real star of this film is the writing of David Mamet. His uncanny ear for dialogue resulted in a naturalistic staccato rhythm that helped to define each of the characters." Elliott finds the film "both engrossing and entertaining. Heist is the film that The Score could have been."
But critic Joseph L. Kalcso (Movieguide) disagrees: "The weakest link is the poor writing and uneven direction." He writes off the film as "a long, morally bankrupt gimmick."
The characters in Heist are indeed morally bankrupt. But the movie admits these are evil men right up front. By the end, we have seen these criminals—bad, badder, and baddest—pay the price. Hearts are broken. Friends are lost or killed. Marriages are corrupted. The one who walks away with a smile reveals himself to be the most hard-hearted devil of all, a slave to the allure of gold. We admire his cleverness, but we can't share in his gloating, because we have seen the price of his selfishness. Clearly, he who works to gain his life has truly lost it.
Heist has its virtues. As a kid, I enjoyed watching the cat-and-mouse games—or dog-and-bird games—of Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner. This kind of cleverness has been entertaining ever since David outwitted Saul and Gideon turned the tables on the Midianites. As long as a viewer is discerning enough not to admire the motives, the priorities, and the values of these wicked men, there is some good brain exercise in trying to unravel these complicated plots. Mamet's script is a big bag of tricks that kept me guessing right up to the end. Ebert points out, "Heist is the kind of caper movie that was made before special effects replaced wit, construction and intelligence. This movie is made out of fresh ingredients, not cake mix."