Heist!

OK, this one is just for fun. Every now and then I read a news story rich in the kind of detail that discloses a journalist taking special delight, reveling in the quirks and serendipities that define “human interest.”

I also have a weakness for heist movies.

If you do too, maybe you relished this article in the New York Times recently, about the team of four geriatric bank robbers arrested in London after drilling through the wall of a safe-deposit vault and making off with $30 million in gold, jewelry and gems. It is Grumpy Old Men meets Ocean’s Eleven – and I’ll be shocked if we don’t see it in theaters in a couple of years.

As I noted above, the devilishness, and the delight, are in the details. Thus, we learn that the crew that pulled off the heist ranged in age from 60 to 76; that they consulted a book called Forensics for Dummies; that the 76-year-old ringleader took a public bus to the job – using his senior pass to ride for free – and wore “distinctive striped socks” later easily identified on security tape; that they were assisted by a mysterious red-haired man, still unidentified, named “Basil”; that they practiced using their diamond-tipped drills by watching Youtube videos; that despite their aches and old bones they shimmied down an elevator shaft to reach the basement; that they bungled the job the first time, drilling through the concrete wall only to find themselves unable to move the safe-deposit cabinet bolted to the floor and blocking the hole – and so returned two days later with different tools, to finish the job; that one of the gang brought insulin with him to ward off his diabetic shakes; that the security company ignored the alarm because it had recently been triggered by an insect; that the gang ultimately gave itself away by bragging about the caper at their local pub, over “heaping plates of bangers and mash;” and, finally, that their chief regret was failing to take a group selfie in front of the vault.

You really can’t beat that as a treatment for a screenplay.

Prompted by this story, and by the end-of-the-year rite of making lists, I’ve put together my top-dozen list of heist films (with Wikipedia links), in roughly descending order:

Rififi

Ocean’s Eleven

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

The Silent Partner

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

Inside Man

The Sting

To Catch a Thief

The Killing

Sexy Beast

The Town

Dog Day Afternoon

 

Many of these will be familiar. Of those that are less so, I would especially recommend The Silent Partner, a 1978 Canadian movie, written by Curtis Hanson (who later directed L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys, and other films) starring Elliott Gould as a nebbishy bank teller who gets drawn willy-nilly into a heist, and Christopher Plummer in one of the most satisfyingly nasty bad-guy roles of all time. Even dearer to my heart is Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, the 1974 directorial debut of Michael Cimino (who went on to notorious success with The Deer Hunter and notorious failure with Heaven’s Gate), a buddy/road/heist film starring Clint Eastwood and an exuberantly youthful Jeff Bridges – and with George Kennedy in a great turn as a brutal accomplice.

Finally, I continue to revere Rififi, by the American noir director Jules Dassin, as the greatest heist film of all time. Blacklisted in the early 1950s, Dassin went to France, where he re-created himself as a European director. Rififi was his first European movie, and his greatest achievement. It told the story of an aging criminal and his three accomplices (one played by Dassin himself) who pull off the robbery of a jewelry boutique in the posh Rue de Rivoli. The film includes a half-hour heist sequence, filmed in total silence – no dialogue, no music – that is a majestic accomplishment of cinematic precision, and excruciatingly tense.

Omitted from my list are films I have somehow managed never to see (like Michael Mann’s Heat), or that I’m less thrilled by than most critics (e.g., The Usual Suspects). Anyway, that’s my Cooper’s Capers list. What’s yours?

 

 

 

 

Rand Richards Cooper is a contributing editor to Commonweal

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