Heist (2001)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito, Delroy Lindo
Extras: Trailer, Talent Files

David Mamet surely ranks as one of the finest screenwriters currently working in the film industry. While not every script he’s penned has been a gem, they all offer insightful character exposition and often biting social commentary. When Mamet also directs a story he’s written then usually things really get interesting with convoluted plots and snazzy dialogue being the norm.

When I heard that David Mamet was working on a heist film I was especially eager to view the results as that has always been a favorite genre of mine and previous Mamet projects such as "The Spanish Prisoner" and "House of Games" had touched upon enough aspects of the art of theft and deceit to whet the appetite.

"Heist" stars Gene Hackman as Joe Moore, an ace thief whose plans to retire are fast-forwarded when he botches a jewelry store job and gets made by the security camera. But Bergman (Danny DeVito) the middle-man has already planned another job and won’t take no for an answer. With his crew consisting of Bobby Blane (Delroy Lindo), Pinky Pincus (Ricky Jay), his wife Fran (Rebecca Pidgeon), and Bergman’s nephew, Jimmy Silk (Sam Rockwell, Moore sets out to pull off the "one last job" that has been the downfall of countless silver screen thieves.

As a film, "Heist" is a bit hit-or-miss. The movie lacks any real visual flair and feels almost lackadaisical in its direction. One could certainly argue that this was intentional as the film relies on the snappy dialogue and numerous plot twists to keep the audience engaged rather than utilizing the all too familiar "heist movie as music video" style that seems to have hijacked the genre. Still and all, at times the lack of any eye candy makes it a bit challenging to stay interested.

But the stellar performances coupled with the excellent script more than make up for any deficiencies. At a time when too many such films wander more into the realm of sci-fi it’s refreshing to see one in which the crime is committed in a wholly confusing yet realistic manner.

"Heist" is presented in its theatrical 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ration in a transfer that <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TV sets, and the presentation is decent enough. The overall image is a bit soft with only the slightest evidence of edge enhancement. Colors are accurate but a bit subdued and black levels are a bit too weak for some of the darker scenes. As befitting a new release, there are no glaring physical blemishes on the source elements and I noticed no compression artifacts. "Heist" isn’t really a visually stunning film in the first place so this transfer is more than adequate if not quite up to the standards of many current DVD releases.

Audio comes in English and French <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 channel> mixes. As is the case with the video, the audio presentation isn’t meant to be an all-out aural assault. The mix is very much anchored to the front speakers with the surrounds used for the musical score and the rare sound effect. Dynamic range is a bit constrained with clear highs but a lack of any real bass. But the all-important dialogue is always clear and overall the soundtrack is well-balanced.

The only extras on the disc are the film’s theatrical trailer and talent files for the main cast members.

As a huge David Mamet and crime film fan it’s a no-brainer that I would enjoy "Heist." But the lack of any real fireworks in a genre that audiences have come to associate with gee-whiz special effects and James Bond-like spy gear probably contributed to the film’s here-and-gone theatrical release. As is the case with many such films, home video may well save the day, and hopefully "Heist" will at last find its audience in this format. But, at a time when even the worst films are blessed with full-blown special editions, the lack of any supplements and a merely average audio-visual presentation certainly aren’t likely to help matters either. Too bad Warner Home Video missed the opportunity to give this film some additional "boost" this way.

Fans of literate crime dramas and well-acted ensemble pieces are encouraged to give "Heist" a try. It’s not a perfect film but it’s still leaps and bounds better than most of what’s out there these days. It’s just a shame that no one involved with the production cared to give "Heist" a more robust DVD release.