Time was when writer/ director David Mamet could fire off dialogue that'd set your head reeling for days. In Heist, he delegates that job to a bullet and a crunching left-hook. Perhaps this is Mamet's back-to-basics ""hard"" film, after the middling farce of State And Main and the pernickety periodisms of The Winslow Boy. If so, it doesn't quite hit its mark: the action's brash and bullish, but the ideas are left twiddling their thumbs at the meeting point.
Not that Heist is some bungled job. The set-ups are impeccably orchestrated and the acting's full-bodied, outside of Rebecca Pidgeon's bland effort and Danny DeVito's standard weaselly runt turn. It's Gene Hackman and the ferocious Delroy Lindo who carry the can here, the former cramming a career's worth of sly nuance into one wink, and his partner-in-crime getting to deliver this diamond description of the old-timer: ""My motherfucker's so cool, when he goes to bed, the sheep count him...""
But for all its punches and tough talk, this one-last-job movie feels like Mamet's going soft. It's an indulgence, really: of actors, of the classic Hollywood he eulogised in his book, On Directing Film, and of his own well-worn taste for scams, con men and tricksy noir. Heist's full of twists, but they're played with such Swiss-timepiece efficiency that they feel perfunctory. The mechanics are convoluted, the payoff's basic.
Sly nuance and deception, after all, are like dry bread to Mamet. Characters put on masks, then take them off - - or is that just another mask? He's played that hand before. Given Mamet's track record, you'd expect nothing less than a well-oiled heist movie - - though what you'd expect, is about as far as this thoroughly old-school thriller goes.
There's something pleasingly gimmick-free about Mamet's heist movie, and Hackman's a treat to watch. But it sorely needs some kind of shot up the arse: as a generic workout, it's just too polished and predictable. No alarms, but no surprises either.