(Video on Demand, December 2015) Not only are there better heist films than 2015’s Heist, but there are better heist films named Heist than 2015’s Heist: Have a look at the 2001 Heist for a David Mamet take on a familiar topic. (But don’t look at 2015’s American Heist, which is even more generic than this one) Actually, a good question would be why Heist is named as such, given that it pokes around a river casino, a bus chase inspired by Speed (Heist was originally far better titled as Bus 657), and the unbearably American plot device of a sick kid needing costly care that can only be met through criminal activity. Robert De Niro headlines the film but remains constrained in a fairly small role, while Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the one doing most of the dramatic work here. De Niro is good but doesn’t stretch anything on his way to his exit; Morgan is quite a bit better as an opportunity criminal who gets caught along some less savoury characters. In smaller roles, David Bautista does fine, but Gina Carano continues to display her thespian limits as a police officer who mumbles a lot. The plot is an old thriller staple (heist goes wrong; truants are challenged in their attempt to escape) and while some of the script and Scott Mann’s direction show promise, Heist struggles to distinguish itself from countless other similar movies. It’s too ponderous to be enjoyed as an action thriller (despite doing best in that mode), and by the time the story gets interesting somewhere in the third act, it’s far too late to care all that much. At the very least, Heist will do as one of those movies you catch on cable TV when there’s nothing else on… but it’s likely that there will be far better choices available on other channels at the same time.
(On-demand video, June 2012) Director Steven Soderbergh likes to tinker with established formulas and he also seems to be increasingly fond of casting coups. This explains why Haywire is a lot like his previous The Girlfriend Experience in casting a non-professional actress in the leading role –this time, martial artist Gina Carano as the tough heroine of this revenge film. Small touches everywhere make it clear that this is an artful take on a stock exploitation premise: The rhythm of the film is a bit slower than most revenge thrillers, the script makes use of a half-hearted framing device; the direction tries to avoid most of the prevailing action clichés. But it’s Carano’s odd performance that sets the film apart: she’s both unpolished and convincing in ways that leap out of the usual Hollywood mode. She’s not from the same acting schools as other female performers, and Soderbergh seems perfectly happy to indulge in the rough edges of her acting. It makes for a thriller that’s less slick and perhaps a bit more intriguing than similar offerings such as Colombiana or any of the half-dozen female-assassins films of the past decade. The script could have been polished to a more accessible whole (the dialogue seems self-consciously cryptic at times), but Haywire is definitely a Soderbergh film in how it refuses to take the safe, broadly-accessible choices. Viewers coming in with set expectations of a run-of-the-mill thriller may find themselves bewildered by what makes it on-screen. On the other hand, viewers with some appreciation for genre experiments will, much like last year’s Hanna, find intriguing things in the result even as the film doesn’t succeed in being conventionally entertaining.