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Quick Dialogue, Brilliant Cast Pull Off Mamet's 'Heist'

Heist

In the big-money world of feature films, substance often takes a back seat to style. Flashy stunts and special effects reign, and dialogue is reduced to a series of wannabe catchphrases. But somebody forget to tell this to David Mamet, writer-director of "Heist."

"Heist" is the story of Joe Moore (Gene Hackman), a savvy veteran thief who's always planning one step ahead -- think Paul Newman in "The Sting." Joe is looking to leave the larceny game for good, but a local crime lord forces him to do one last job before he goes.

Sound like you've already seen this movie? Perhaps, but Mamet's razor-sharp dialogue keeps this story fresh.

His characters are never at a loss for words. When Joe is talking to a police officer, one of his partners tells an accomplice not to worry, because "my man's so cool, when he sleeps, sheep count him."

In addition to memorable one-liners, the script features a rapid-fire style of banter between characters which holds the audience's attention well. Drawing from his theater background, where he had his actors rehearse with a metronome, Mamet makes the exchanges rhythmic and well-timed.

Led by Hackman, the strong cast carries the film. He is perfect in the role of an aging criminal trying to get out and prove he's not too old for the job at the same time. When he says lines like, "I don't clear my throat without a backup plan," it is impossible not to root for him.

Supporting players Delroy Lindo and Danny DeVito are solid as always, and Sam Rockwell gives a breakout performance as Silk, the crime lord's nephew, despite being forced to grow a horrendous Billy Dee Williams mustache for the role.

Of course lines and actors can't do all the work. The generic story fails to hold up its end at times and the abrupt, anticlimactic ending is somewhat disappointing.

But the script and acting more than make up for these imperfections. Viewers who are tired of 10-minute car chases and ridiculous special effects should let Mamet stage a "Heist" of these modern cinematic standbys.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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