After enjoying a successful collaboration on The Untouchables as writer and producer, respectively, David Mamet and Art Linson decided to reunite to make a film noir-caper movie. The result is Heist, a smart, complex ensemble about a masterfully-minded gold robbery.
Marrying the two genres required the finesse of Pulitzer Prize winning, Oscar nominated auteur Mamet, who counts Heist as his ninth film as writer-director. "Film noir is rooted in two major elements," Mamet explains. "One is violence, and the other is irony. I think that's what makes a film noir different from a simple gangster film. Gangster films are essentially sentimental. They're violent and they're sentimental. And film noir is violent and unsentimental. It's much colder than a gangster film. Violence is emotional, so to treat it unemotionally almost automatically makes it ironic. "
Although Mamet characterizes Heist as a film noir, in truth, [David Mamet[ films defy standard categorization and are often counted as a genre unto themselves. With over 20 films bearing his stamp as either writer or writer-director, and having been an inspirational force in theater since the 1970s, it's common to hear cineasts and theater buffs refer to coarse, rapid-fire, naturalistic dialogue as "Mamet-esque. " And it's not only the stylized language that stands out in Mamet's films - it's the pure joy the actors experience in delivering lines they'd never get from anyone else.
"It's always interesting to work with a writer-director," Gene Hackman muses. "It's fascinating to see a director try to work his way out of the problems that arise, problems he may have caused himself because he's the writer. But David's very fluid - on those rare occasions, he worked everything out smoothly. "
"I'm a big, big fan of David Mamet's," Danny DeVito enthuses. "It's really an art, what he does. His words are so clean and clear. It's a challenge as an actor because he has his own language, but that's another thing that's fun - to make his language your own. It was so much fun playing a bad guy and saying all those things. I love saying his words. "
"The dialogue is fantastic in this movie," Sam Rockwell concurs. "I get to say the coolest things. I have this one scene, it's a long monologue with Fran, where I deliver the kind of speech an actor dreams of playing. It's like Bogart at the end of The Maltese Falcon, or Nicholson at the end of Chinatown (1974). "
Ricky Jay, whom Mamet directed in his smash Off Broadway one man show, Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants, draws a parallel between the renowned writer-director's unmistakable writing and his own background in the world of magic: "My mentor, the late great Guy Vernon, who many people thought was the greatest sleight of hand artist in the world, is credited with saying, 'In the performance of good magic, the mind is led, step upon step, to ingeniously defeat its own logic. ' That's the way I view David's writing. "
When Gene Hackman first read the Heist screenplay, he liked the idea of "how clever Joe Moore is, and how cleverly he and his co-conspirators pull these jobs with a minimum of violence. The emphasis is on skill, mental acuity and the preparation for any potential twist or outcome. "
"One of the things that I responded to in the screenplay is the language," Delroy Lindo says. "What David Mamet writes is full of subtext, full of characters saying one thing and meaning any number of other things, and that was the particular challenge in this work, attempting to fill in the emotional life behind the words as fully and clearly as possible. "
A leitmotif of Heist, as well as other Mamet films, is loyalty - which plays out in his creative process as well. In addition to Rebecca Pidgeon and Ricky Jay, two Mamet regulars who appear in Heist are Patti LuPone, who plays Betty Croft, a U. S. Customs Agent with a career-threatening secret; and Jim Frangione, a veteran of Mamet's plays as well as the films [State and Main, The Spanish Prisoner and Homicide, who plays the wealthy potential boat buyer D. A. Freccia.
"When David says, 'Patti, will you do this?' it doesn't matter what 'it' is," says Patti LuPone, the Tony Award winning actress who began working with Mamet in theatre in 1976, performing in five of his plays as well as State and Main (2000). "I'll be there for him. He loves actors, he respects them, and it shows. "
"I've been lucky enough to work with David on a number of films," says Ricky Jay. "This one is different in that it is not a conventional con movie - it really is a heist movie and depicts a different strata of the criminal sub-culture. "
Though Mamet has assembled a talented stable of actors and crew over the course of writing and directing nine films, the casting of Heist was not predetermined during his writing process. "I always thought the part of Fran would be played by Rebecca Pidgeon, but other than that, I just knew we needed great actors," Mamet reveals. "Gene Hackman was really instrumental, as was Danny DeVito, in getting this film made. I don't think it would have been made without them. They're terrific actors and a great pleasure to work with. "
Heist reunites castmembers Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito and Delroy Lindo, who previously worked together in the ensemble gangster comedy Get Shorty (1995). "It's always nice to rekindle friendships on movies," Hackman says of his Get Shorty (1995) and Heist costars. "Danny's a great guy and a great one to kid around, and when the camera is rolling, he's such an accomplished actor, it's fun to sit back and watch. And Delroy's a strong, dynamic actor, one you can play a scene with and know he's always there, always solid and he's wonderful to work with. "
"One of the things I always said about Get Shorty (1995) was that I regretted that I didn't have more direct work with Gene," Delroy Lindo muses. "That wish was certainly more fully granted on this film. "
Of Hackman, DeVito says, "I idolize the guy. I think he's a brilliant actor and always has been. All the work he's done has been exemplary. "
"Gene is probably one of the greatest actors on planet Earth," says relative newcomer Sam Rockwell, "and it's kind of amazing to know I worked with him. It's a dream come true. I think you have to be a good person to play the parts he's played. He has a real humanity to him. "
Oleanna, worked closely with cinematographer Robert Elswit to render the writer-director's vision of an old-fashioned Hollywood noir film. "We set out to do a big looking movie in scope," Wasco says, "but as a noir-gangster movie that wouldn't look too slick. "
Because Mamet gravitated toward a 1940s monochromatic, muted look - his aethetic sensibility, as well as his recurring theme of loyalty, lending itself to film noir - Wasco says he "took out a lot of color" from the production design palette. "It's the language and characters that are colorful. The sets are mostly all browns, grays and nicely muted, so what stands out are the actors' faces. "
Though the story is set in and around New York City, Boston and various parts of New England, the filmmakers selected Montreal, Canada to double for all of the film's locations. The eastern feel of the landscapes and buildings, combined with the access to Mirabel International Airport, some 25 miles north of Montreal, provided the authenticity and access needed to meet all the production requirements. Every scene, from the airport to a gas station rest room, from an industrial pier to Joe's marina headquarters, was filmed on location in and around Montreal. In all, some 60 sets were used to bring the story and characters of Heist to life.
Another advantage to shooting in Montreal's Mirabel International Airport is its surprisingly quiet atmosphere - a functioning airport, Mirabel is used primarily for cargo and international charter flights. This made it easier for the crew to stage a fiery explosion on the tarmac while shooting the film's climactic gold robbery sequence.
Joe's treasured boat, another key set piece in the film, is a 1957, handmade, vintage 48-foot yawl. Mamet wanted the boat fitted with all-brass railings and a diving platform, "all of which," Wasco says, "were custom-made and intricately, seamlessly added to this priceless, handmade prop of a boat. We couldn't put as much as a pinhole onto that sailboat. Everything had to be clamped on, laid into place and perfectly fit - the way artisans fit together custom woodwork, with no nails, no metal just perfect planning. "
Wasco’s muted color scheme seeped through to the set dressing and props, as well as the sets themselves. "We were going for a restrained look," Wasco explains. "Heist is set in present day, but David likes to give a non-specific date to his movies. Even with the cars, we tried to go mostly with big 1970s and 1980s American cars, physically big with no bright colors."
Costume designer Renée April created the film's wardrobe based around Mamet's vision. "David wanted film noir, so that meant no color and nothing overly specific," she says. "And he didn't want anything that would read the year 2000. So when you're watching the film, you don't necessarily know exactly what period the story is set in. A lot of the costumes are reminiscent of the 1940s, 50s and 60s. And the suit that Delroy Lindo wears in the jewelry store sequence is a copy of one from the 1930s. "
April reveals that in dressing Rebecca Pidgeon, she used the late Jean Seberg in Breathless (1983) as a reference. And for her part, in order to play Fran as "the tough femme fatale" she is, Pidgeon cut off her long brunette tresses and dyed her hair blonde. "In this film, you shouldn't really notice the costumes," April says. "And I think we were successful. The characters are disguised so much of the time, and they're supposed to blend in with their surroundings. And sometimes, you're not even sure if they're in disguise. You aren't supposed to be sure of anything. "
"I never thought I'd be in a film noir," says Sam Rockwell. "Heist is a particularly stylized film. The dialogue is stylized and sounds, to me, like what you'd hear Bogie and Bacall say to each other. Getting to dress up and play gangster, to act with these great actors, and to say this fantastic dialogue is something I've been preparing to do my whole life. It's the stuff you dream of doing. "
About The Story
I wouldn't clear my throat without a back up plan.
Nobody gets the goods like veteran con artist Joe Moore. Unflappable, unfazed and cool in the face of intense heat and extreme pressure, Joe is a master at the art of theft, deception and verbal sleight-of-hand. As fellow con man and crew member Don Pincus describes Joe in the film: "He's so cool, when he goes to bed, sheep count him. "
Besides innate talent and experience, the key to Joe's success is preparation. "Anybody can get the goods," Joe quips. "Hard part's getting away. "
And, as Joe will discover, it's not only a challenge to get away with the crime, but getting away from a life of crime will require all of his considerable skills and tenacity. When this heist goes down, Joe's going to need more than one Plan B to make his getaway.
"Joe is a clever guy who loves the game as much as he loves the fact that he's stealing money," Oscar-winning actor Gene Hackman says of his character. "He's the kind of full-of-life character that maybe we'd all like to have a bit of in ourselves. "
Rebecca Pidgeon, best known for her work in David Mamet's films State and Main (2000), spanish Prisoner, The (1997) and winslow Boy, The (1999), plays Fran, Joe's wife and the sole female member of his team. "Joe is the king, the hero, the brain, the mastermind behind the heists," Pidgeon explains. "He's enigmatic and he's very appealing. "
And he's smart enough to surround himself with a talented cabal of thieves like Fran, a chameleon who is as cunning and reliable as her beauty is disarming. "She's a dangerous girl," Pidgeon cautions. Why? Because, as Joe puts it, "She could talk her way out of a sunburn. "
Like Joe, Fran instinctively reads situations and does whatever it takes to circumvent trouble…even if that requires her to "suit up" - to shadow a shady business partner with her special brand of surveillance - or step in front of a moving car, which Joe's colleague Don Pincus does at one point to buy time for the crew.
"That move is an old con called the 'flopper and diver racket,'" says Ricky Jay, the slight-of-hand artist and actor who, in addition to playing Pincus in Heist, has appeared in David Mamet's films House of Games (1987), things change (1988), Homicide (1991), spanish prisoner, The (1997) and State and Main (2000). "It was an old con played among the lower school of swindlers who would actually allow themselves to be hit by cars to make insurance money. "
In addition to Pincus, Joe's crew is rounded out by his longtime colleague Bobby Blane, played by acclaimed actor Delroy Lindo. Joe wouldn't think of pulling a job without Blane aboard for the ride. "That Joe and Bobby seem to communicate with a certain kind of shorthand," says Lindo, known for his indelible roles in cider house Rules, The (1999) and Get Shorty (1995), "bespeaks a depth of friendship. "
"Because of his age, Joe is beginning to be looked over, but he's still able to do the job," Hackman says. "He puts together a very good band of cohorts and co-conspirators, some very sharp individuals who are prepared for pretty much any eventuality, and they pull these heists with a minimum of violence. "
That is, until a carefully-orchestrated robbery goes slightly awry. Joe and his crew are quietly overtaking a jewelry store in broad daylight when a young female clerk unwittingly disrupts the proceedings. Pincus pulls a gun, but in order to get near the girl without her making a fuss - which might necessitate her being shot - Joe waves him off and makes the fateful decision to remove his mask.
In rendering the girl unconscious, Joe spares her life and commits his face to surveillance video. The rest of the job goes off without a hitch, but now that Joe's visage has been "burned" on video tape, he figures it's time to retire. He's got Fran, his beautiful boat he built himself and a healthy cut from the jewelry heist to sail away with to a remote tropical paradise.
Enter Bergman, the shady "businessman" played by Danny DeVito who fronted the jewelry robbery. He's bankrolled another job - a high-risk scenario involving the theft of Swiss gold - based on a tip from Joe. But Joe doesn't want any part of Bergman's latest "offer. " It's too risky now that he's been caught on tape.
Too bad. Bergman insists that Joe and company pull the gold heist before they disband - and he refuses to give up their cuts on the jewelry job unless they score the gold. "Everybody needs money," Bergman berates Joe, who argues that he doesn't want or need any more than the share he's owed. "That's why they call it money. "
"There's so much at stake," says Danny DeVito, the prolific actor, producer and director who helmed and starred in the critically acclaimed film Hoffa from David Mamet's screenplay. "Everything that Bergman has and everything that Moore has is riding on the line. In fact, all of the team members in the movie have issues that are right on the edge, between screwed-up and resolution. Just one degree off screws up an entire life. "
Caught between a rock and a hardened criminal - and desperate for the cash he needs to fund his retirement - Joe reluctantly agrees to Bergman's terms. For insurance, Bergman assigns his over-confident, under-experienced nephew Jimmy Silk to the gold operation to protect his interests. Silk is Bergman's guarantee that Joe won't skip town before pulling the job and, more importantly, that Joe makes "the meet" - the post-heist rendezvous where everyone will convene and collect their payoffs.
"Silk thinks he's a real smooth operator, smooth as silk," says Sam Rockwell, the versatile actor who played a disarming villain in Charlie's Angels (2000). "He knows how to get in between things. He's not really a tough guy, but more of a smart guy. "
But Silk rubs Moore, Blane and Pincus the wrong way - he's green, trigger-happy and shaky near cops. And he seems a little too interested in the health and safety of Joe's wife.
To protect his own interests, Joe asks Fran to keep an eye on Silk, using her physical assets and Silk's weakness against him. Fran seems willing to do anything Moore asks of her, including the Silk assignment, because as she often says to Joe: "If you say it, it's right. "
So, in constant danger of being recognized by the cops and with Jimmy Silk alongside to watch their every move, Joe and his partners hatch an elaborate scheme to steal millions in gold ingots off of a Swiss cargo plane. Not exactly a mom-and-pop shop hold-up. Not exactly low security. Not only will Joe and company have to stay one step ahead of airport security, state troopers, the FBI and U. S. customs officials, they'll have to stay one step ahead of each other…because, as Joe discovers one painful step at a time, there's more than one plan at work to get away with the gold.
"These guys are thieves, after all," Danny DeVito points out. "No matter how long they've been working as a team, they're cagey. It's a dog-eat-dog business. "
But at the heart of Heist is the partnership between Joe, Blane and Pincus. "The relationship between these three is a fascinating one," Hackman observes. "They have a silent bond, a long-term understanding, a trust. They've worked together so much they know each other's moves. There is a sense of honor among the thieves. "
"Honor and loyalty are fairly wonderful and probably fairly rare commodities," notes writer-director David Mamet, for whom loyalty has been a recurring theme throughout his illustrious career. "One might be as likely to find these qualities among thieves as among any other sub-strata of our society. "
With all of the disguises, deliberate misleads and backup plans laid for every possible contingency, Joe's high-stakes gold heist seems to go like clockwork, until somebody - make that everybody - gets double-crossed.
"One of the most interesting aspects of the film is that you're never quite sure what's going on - who's got the loot and who doesn't," Hackman says. "How it all turns out is never a foregone conclusion. "
"The movie is like Chinese boxes,"Delroy Lindo adds. "It's a trick within a trick within a trick. "
"Heist is about loyalty and people standing up for each other and holding up their end," says Danny DeVito. "It's a funny but really hard look at crooks. You have to watch out at every turn, because if one little tiny thing goes wrong, somebody's going to jump in there and take what's yours. That much money, it doesn't hang around till you work out personal issues. You have to deal with problems accordingly. "