The Heist Movie

killing-posterAs a fan of heist movies, I saw Logan Lucky last week and was, as expected, disappointed – for too many heist movies suffer from the same problems: major plot holes and all-too-convenient twists that turn certain doom into success whose odds are less likely than winning Powerball twice in a row. Despite killer ensemble casts, exotic locations, cool cars and clothes, the heist genre usually involves an outlandish script that, in the end, leaves the viewer wishing things could have been better.

Directed by heist-meister Steven Soderbergh (Oceans 11, 12 & 13), the action in Logan Lucky is fast and exhilarating, and the cast of characters involved in the heist all have their requisite unique quirks. In fact, the pace is so fast you often don’t realize how ridiculous the action is until hours after you’ve left the theater. Without giving anything material away, the Logan family – Jimmy (Channing Tatum), Clyde (Adam Driver), and Mellie (Riley Keough) – are among a long line of Logan’s who have a black cloud of bad luck hovering over their heads. After Jimmy loses his job working underground construction at a Nascar track, he conjures a plan to steal money from the track. It’s time to turn the Logan luck around.

He comes to this point after learning on the job that the track stores cash from concession stands in an underground vault – and that the cash is transported automatically from POS terminals through a network of pneumatic tubes. Jimmy needs a demolitions expert (mandatory for all heist movies) who happens to be incarcerated in a local jail. All Jimmy needs to do is break his demo buddy Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) out of jail on the day of the job, and secretly return him to serve out his sentence afterwards. If that’s not enough, the plan requires Clyde to go to jail on purpose to accompany Joe in the plan- and he too must be broken in and out. Although by the end of the movie it’s not clear why it was necessary for Clyde to go inside.

Anyway, that’s enough bullshit right there to make you shake your head. But it only gets crazier as additional conspirators join the heist. They’re able to masquerade as exterminators, garbage haulers, maintenance workers – anyone you need them to be to waltz into a place unchallenged. In fact, everyone on the team seems be able to saunter anywhere they want without worrying about security guards, locks, fences, surveillance cameras, motion detectors – all the kinds of things you’d expect to thwart penetration of the track vault, and none that exist.

Do they get the money? Can they get Joe and Clyde in and out of jail undetected? Can Mellie the hot chick drive better than Richard Petty? Watch the movie – but don’t be shocked if your suspended belief doesn’t come back from the dead. Oh, another question to ask yourself at the right time: Did they even need the demolitions expert which prompted the whole idiotic break-in/break-out scheme in the first place?

The heist movie genre tends to be fairly formulaic in that several elements appear in just about every attempt. Here are a few:

  • The place where the loot is stored must be absolutely impenetrable – so impenetrable that no human being need monitor it. It can be underground encased in 100 foot thick concrete, guarded by a lattice of lasers, submerged beneath the ocean floor – yet in the end not so impenetrable after all.
  • If the vault is monitored by security guards watching on closed circuit TV, one of the following weak spots will exist: there will be a corner of the vault that is out of sight of any camera, the closed circuit TV system can be disabled with a wire cutter, someone can hack the system and put up a visual façade that fools the monitors that all is well in the vault.
  • Trained personnel overseeing the security of phenomenal wealth are easily distracted, easily fooled and remarkably gullible. Every heist movie includes characters that waltz right past shady behavior and blow off suspicious interactions.
  • Sixty seconds in a heist movie takes 10 minutes of screen time.
  • The heist gang must acquire a device that does not really exist, pull off a stunt that mortal, earth-bound humans cannot perform, or rely on a total breakdown of internationally accepted norms of behavior.
  • If the heist movie was made before 1970, the robbers must get jammed in the end; after 1975 they must get away with it.
  • Finally and thankfully, most heist movies feature a delightful ensemble cast which usually makes a disappointing movie enjoyable.

Now, here are some examples:

Oceans 11 (1960)
Slick movie featuring the Rat Pack. Requires the heroes to knock out the electricity of the entire Vegas strip on New Years Eve. Yes, it requires a demolition man. They get the loot out in a garbage truck which passes swiftly thru a police roadblock – maybe because it’s driven by a shuckin’ black guy (Sammy Davis, Jr.). In the end, the loot – which they store in a dead co-conspirator’s coffin – is burned up when the dude is cremated.

Oceans 11 (2001)

Modern-day substitute Rat Pack-ish actors redo the original. This time it takes a thing called the “pinch” to knock out Vegas’ juice. Really? This pinch is something you can actually obtain? And it’s theft doesn’t spur a national dragnet?

Oceans 13

The gist of this heist is to cause full mayhem at a ritzy casino owned by a dirtbag. The plan is to rig the casino’s myriad games to pay out in unusually generous quantities, then encourage all the winners to leave before they can lose their winnings back. The heist team includes guys who go to a factory that make casino dice so they can trick them out to come up 7’s. And they get the casino owner to carry a cellphone that disrupts a key security element of the casino. More unbelievable shit occurs climaxing with the boys simulating a scary earthquake with a gigantic drilling machine. Don’t ask.

Sexy Beast

The team must extract enormous wealth by breaking into a vault from under water via a pool in a next door bathhouse. Funny how often banks build their impenetrable vaults adjacent to easily accessible structures. In the end the lead character is allowed to keep a pair of ruby earrings and 10 pounds while his psychopathic tormentor winds up buried beneath a swimming pool.

Heist

The goal of David Mamet’s intricately crafted heist: steal gold bullion from a Swissair jet right before it’s scheduled to take off. The diversion: blow up a radar unit on the grounds causing the taxi-ing plane to stop on the tarmac. The heist: remove the gold while no one in the airport does a fucking thing. By the way, the robbers are able to bring a van onto the runway without the bat of a lash from anyone in authority. And as in Oceans 11, the robbers drive the loot off the property past a phalanx of law enforcement who have no imagination and nary a hint of curiosity.

The Killing

Directed by Stanley Kubrick and released in 19xx, this heist movie has moxy. Since this is 1956 all it takes for the robbers to enter the sanctum sanctorum is a knock on the door. In the end the mastermind gets away with it – almost. Just before he boards a plane his luggage with the loot breaks open on the tarmac.

The Usual Suspects

A handful of guys overwhelm 30+ armed men to board a ship full of … nothing. Well, nothing except Keyser Sose.

Mob Movie Alumni Succumb

mobsters

In just a couple days three actors who played in critically acclaimed mob movies died:

Frank Vincent (Goodfellas, The Sopranos) – Played Billy Batts in Martin Scorcese’s award-winning Goodfellas and then had to wait a few years before he could join the cast of The Sopranos because David Chase thought Vincent had been too identifiable as Batts. In the end, Frank Vincent as Phil Leotardo fleshed out the final years of the TV series in fine fashion.

Gastone Moschin (Godfather Part 2) – Moschin – a well-regarded Italian actor in his native country – played the manipulative Don Fannuci who eventually gets the bullet in the head from young Vito Corleone.

Harry Dean Stanton (Godfather Part 2) – Harry Dean went on to play an amazing array of characters, so his brief stint in GF2 is not that impactful. Still he was a member of an extraordinary cast. His role as an FBI agent was to oversee the turncoat Mafioso Frank Pentangeli. Of course, why he needed to continue to provide protection after Frank decided not to help the prosecution of Michael Corleone remains a mystery.

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