Snappy dialogue gets The Job done in 'Heist'

David Mamet's new film "Heist" is filled with the jittery, staccato language the playwright/director has perfected over the years, and it's a balm to the ears of moviegoers seeking stylish dialogue. The film, about a heist (natch), is filled with characters talking about The Job; somehow, we can hear those initial capitals. We learn that one character is so cool that when he goes to sleep "sheep count him." "I'm very resilient," announces another character. "So's Gumby," he's told.

Unfortunately, The Job is not quite as interesting as what I'll call The Words — meaning, the movie's story is far less compelling than what the actors say and how they say it. This is, ahem, a rather unusual state of affairs for a movie these days, and makes "Heist" eminently watchable. Or, to be more precise, eminently listenable.


With Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito, Delroy Lindo, Rebecca Pidgeon, Sam Rockwell, Ricky Jay. Written and directed by David Mamet. 110 minutes. Rated R for language and some violence. Several theaters.

Mamet's best films ("House of Games," "The Spanish Prisoner") combine The Words with marvelous little puzzle-boxes of plot, endlessly replayable. With "Heist," he's taking on a genre that's twisty by definition — the double-crossings, the shifting loyalties, the snappy costume changes — and consequently some of the usual Mamet surprise is gone. It's not that "Heist" isn't full of eyebrow-raising turns, but we can see too many of them coming.

Nonetheless, this is a perfectly pleasurable ride, with Gene Hackman at the helm as a veteran thief with a dependable pair of henchmen (Delroy Lindo, Ricky Jay), a gorgeous wife (Rebecca Pidgeon), and a fence who owes him some money (Danny DeVito). Hackman's an inspired choice; he's got the kind of regular-guy looks that nobody notices, and with a pair of nerd glasses or a utility vest, he's suddenly somebody else. His breezy, relaxed readings of The Words are a treat; as are Jay's unruffled gazes and Lindo's eyes-missing-nothing tension.

Pidgeon (Mamet's real-life wife) has been problematic in Mamet movies before, giving very mannered, precise performances that feel like they belong in a different movie or perhaps on the stage. "In Spanish Prisoner," "Winslow Boy" and "State and Main," she delivered her lines with a deliberate flatness and a too-careful dropping of final consonants.

Here, as Fran, the femme fatale who "can talk her way out of a sunburn," she's lovingly photographed in tight jeans and skimpy dresses, and gets to bark lines like, "Stud, pour it!" to bartenders. (Hmm, is Mamet up for the Husband of the Year award?) Her usual archness seems a bit muted, or perhaps it just fits this character better; at any rate, she's rather effective.

Something's always happening in "Heist," even though it's not always clear exactly what — Mamet's not one to hold his audience's hands. But really, it's enough to just listen. "I'll be as quiet as an ant pissing into cotton," promises a character. Not enough, says Hackman. "I want you to be as quiet as an ant not even thinking about pissing into cotton." See what I mean?

Moira Macdonald can be reached at 206-464-2725 or