Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Top 5 (or maybe more): The Heist Flick

Sometimes, the most unassuming films sneak up on us and linger in our memory. That's happened to me with February's excellent "The Bank Job", a heist film that succeeds in today's modern market of louder/faster/and more bodies cinema, but with a distinctively traditional approach. The body count is low, the action is measured, and the suspense is palpable. I appreciate that. "The Bank Job" also rekindled my interest in my favorite genre- the 'heist picture'. The heist picture is not limited to jewelry store hold ups or bank robberies. You've got train robberies- most memorable in "The Taking of Pelham 123" or "The Great Train Robbery" or even to a lesser degree John Frankenheimer's brilliant Nazi loot train robbery film "The Train"- and you've got hell on wheels pics such as "The Driver", "The Italian Job" and "The Getaway" which appeals to the motor heads in all of us. Then there are the comedies- "The Hot Rock", "Oceans 11" and "The Pink Panther".... and trust me all three of those just mentioned succeed in varying degress, but I mention them anyway.

So what are my favorite heist pics? And yours? In order of preference:

1. Heat- Yea, it's only a dozen years old, but Michael Mann's crime picture is so full of details, that it stands as the be-all end-all when it comes to smart, crisp heist narratives. And not only do we get perfectly realized emotions and motives from the robbers, but the cops are just as sharply realized. This film should stand for ages.

2. The Killing- I have to go back to the decade that started it all with the heist picture here. Whether it was America's booming economic freedom or the over active imagination of artists dying to rebel against the establishment and McCarthyism, the 50's hold up pretty damn well. The heist picture grew smart. We're (often) given half the film's running time just for meticulous planning of the robbery... and THEN the actual robbery. Plus, the perverse idea that everyone is doomed in the end, culled from film noir, wormed its way into the genre and things would never look quite as optimistic again. "The Killing" has all of this in spades.. and the ending still shocks today.

3. The Asphalt Jungle- More proof of the 50's as heist king. Even moreso than Kubrick's "The Killing" this is all about preparation, and it's startling. Black and white never looked so good on rain-soaked streets.

4. The Anderson Tapes- I recently wrote about Lumet's film here. A true unheralded gem not available on DVD.

5. Rififi- While Jules Dassin made some great films, my fav remains this jewelry heist masterpiece. Mostly lauded for its wordless 29 minute set piece of the actual robbery, its praise is well deserved. If you didn't know any better, this plays like a long lost Jean Pierre Melville film.

6. La Cercle Rouge and Un Flic- And speaking of Melville, both of these films reek of mood and tempo like only Melville could produce. Strangely enough, their both color films. Nothing aginst earlier B&W work like "Le Doulos" and "Bob Le Flambeur", but "The Red Circle" and "A Cop" are like abstract heist films. Little dialogue, careful compositions and characters that are dead ringers while dressed in trenchcoats and hats, they can be confusing at times for the way they closet everything up. But the suffocating mood only adds to the suspense as it causes the viewer to routinely second guess each person's motives. It's like a chess game on film. And when the downfall does come, it's just as brutal.

I could go on for hours. If you haven't already, catch "The Bank Job" before it leaves theaters. You'll be thoroughly surprised. And if you haven't seen at least 1 of the films on this list, throw me a friggin bone and Netflix it now.


Chris Gaubatz said...

Great list, although, I must confess I haven't seen them all. You know I try to focus on horror, sci-fi, but this genre is great, too! Totally agree on, "Heat". Does the Spike Lee Joint, "Inside Man" fall into the top 10 (if you were going beyond the top 5)? Just curious, liked that one a lot. dude here. Saw, "Leatherheads" today, and loved it! Seen it yet?

Joe Baker said...

Yo brotha... I liked "Inside Man" and it's a respectable heist flick, but not in my top ten. I can't place my finger on it, but Jodie Foster ruined part of it for me.

Also, give me a call when you get the chance! I called this week but they said you were up in DC. Give me a shout.