5. Good Thief (2002)
Jean-Pierre Malville’s “Bob le flambeur” is an influential film enough that it has highly inspired Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Hard Eight” and the original “Ocean’s Eleven” series (as well as the remake, of course) but Neil Jordan decided to do more of a straight and modern remake of the film, and his film is highly elaborated by the genius casting of Nick Nolte in the lead role.
Nolte gives one of his best performances as a crook of dubious origin who has once again reached the low point of his “career,” and is planning a last big coup on the French Riviera. Bob Montagnet is not only a player, he is also addicted to drugs. Nevertheless, he is planning a spectacular coup with his partners Paulo and Raoul, the technology freak Vladimir, ex-dealer Said, prostitute Anne, and twins Albert and Bertram: he is targeting the Monte Carlo casino.
The story offers everything that makes for a caper movie, in which everyone wants to outsmart the other. But this is more than just a heist story as it has some really interesting characters and Nolte, in particular, creates a fascinating lead character to watch. It’s one of those performances that when you watch, you feel like the actor is “born to play this role.” The atmosphere is also rich and the conclusion of events is highly satisfying. Ralph Fiennes also does a lot with a limited appearance. Basically, “The Good Thief” is one of those remakes that has been done well and is faithful to its original material, modernized accordingly, and is rich on character and atmosphere.
4. The Hot Rock (1972)
John Archibald Dortmunder is a well-known fictional character created by Donald E. Westlake, and is also the protagonist of his 14 novels and 11 short stories published between 1970 and 2009. He first appeared in the novel “The Hot Rock,” and in cinema, his first appearance was also the movie adaptation of the same novel by Peter Yates. Yates had high hopes for the film; he thought he had a hit on his hands but unfortunately, the movie was a box office flop despite Robert Redford’s star power.
Redford plays Dortmunder, who is released from his latest stint in prison; he is approached by his brother-in-law, Andy, about another job. It’s no surprise, as he just says to warden that there ain’t no chance he’s going straight. Then Dr. Amusa approaches Dortmunder about a valuable gem in a museum that is of great significance to his people in Africa, stolen during colonial times. Perhaps the U.K. release title “How to Steal a Diamond in Four Uneasy Lessons” is a better title to describe the plot. Dortmunnder gathers a gang to pull off the robbery, but bad luck keeps following them.
“The Hot Rock” is an entertaining heist story if you like your suspense and thrills mixed with a lot of humor and comedy. The book itself is very funny and William Goldman did a decent job at adapting it into film. Redford is a great lead, the movie is engaging, and it’s not only the most underrated Westlake adaptation, but also probably the best one.
3. American Animals (2018)
They love “Ocean’s Eleven,” they love “Snatch,” and they attempt to turn their own lives into a heist movie. It’s December 2004 and four Kentucky college students — and one dropout — stage perhaps one of the most interesting art heists in the history of art heists. It’s a bit difficult to describe; the story itself is fascinating, but what makes this movie stand out is its effective use of non-linear narrative. This is a weird, but at the same time smart, thoughtful film that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Bart Layton, who previously handled another fascinating true crime story in “The Imposter,” does almost something experimental in “American Animals” by making an effective balance of documentary and fiction. He keeps the tone tense and engaging, which is why you keep caring about the characters; not to mention, their use of first person accounts makes the whole even more effective.
Despite the non-linear use, it has an easy-to-follow plot and likeable, complex characters. The performances are also great all around and the film doesn’t shy away from touching on some weighty themes, raising more questions. Overall, “American Animals” is far from a generic heist film and it makes you wonder what else Layton will offer in the future.
2. The Lookout (2007)
A suspenseful, powerfully acted film by Scott Frank is far from being your typical heist movie. At some point there was a great deal of hype around Joseph Gordon-Levitt, especially after “500 Days of Summer.” Even though his hype has been almost nonexistent recently for some reason, it’s worth noting that he had a very solid filmography even before he reached the attention of wider audiences. “The Lookout,” in particular, is one of his best performances and is the reason he caught Christopher Nolan’s attention, who later cast him in “Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises.”
The heist part actually happens almost after the middle of the film, but it’s very central to the story. Up until that point, what we get to see is almost a character study, and Frank has written some complex, realistic characters that we care about and who keep our attention. Since we’re already familiar with their motivations and personalities, we get deeply engaged in their story; so when the heist happens, it just serves as a great conclusion to what we have witnessed throughout the whole film. Basically, the movie is a mix of a character drama and a heist movie, but it’s a bit heavy on the former part.
Sure, the heist is great, but if you’re seeing it only for the heist part, you may get disappointed. Or maybe you’d still love it, who knows, since it’s a surprisingly well-written movie on depression and trauma, and has a lot of heart, a good sense of humour, some very fine dialogues, and also great performances. A special shout-out to Jeff Daniels almost stealing the show from Gordon-Levitt. In his directorial debut, Frank certainly delivered a gripping and even poetic film here.
1. Silent Partner (1978)
There are some great Christmas robbery films, but “Silent Partner” might be the most underrated one. The movie is great all around, the screenplay is very sharp and original. It’s understandable why it didn’t turn into a classic but it has a lot of great moments, some truly fascinating scenes, and any moment with the always amazing Christopher Plummer is worth watching. His performance here is one of the best works of his career. Curtis Hanson later became a much more accomplished writer/director; here he wrote a very strong script and the material was handled very well by director Daryl Duke in this effective remake of Danish film “Think of a Number.”
The film follows a bank teller named Miles (a very good Elliott Gould) who discovers a note on the counter indicating that the bank will be robbed, but he does not tell the police about his findings and hides a large amount of cash in his lunch box. When the thief heists the bank, he keeps the money for himself. Psychopathic thief Harry (an incredible Christopher Plummer) soon realizes he’s been fooled; he tracks down the teller and engages him in a cat-and-mouse chase for the cash.
That’s a movie you won’t want to talk about too much or go into the details, so it won’t get spoiled. The movie has surprising and unpredictable turns, the performances are top-notch, the script is intelligent. Basically, “Silent Partner” has some of the best elements you’d expect from a heist film and it’s definitely one of the best thrillers of its decade. Certainly deserves more recognition.