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Cinematic crime capers emerge as fresh film genre

Sean Sweany | Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The job. The con. The heist. In Hollywood, the heist film is one of the trickiest to capture. Characters must embody a certain amount of ambiguity, the plot must contain the right level of complexity and the story must be believable for a heist film to be successful. Because of these prerequisites, caper films are usually either horribly bad or delightfully entertaining. Here are some of the better examples of an increasingly popular genre.

The Sting (1973)

A winner of seven Academy Awards, “The Sting” is perhaps the quintessential heist film. Hollywood giants Paul Newman and Robert Redford co-star in a humor-filled caper, complete with a plot line that constantly twists and turns. “The Sting” can easily be watched repeatedly thanks to its clever plot and memorable soundtrack. The acting here is superb and it’s easy to tell that the filmmakers had a fun time making the movie, a trait that usually translates to success and longevity for Hollywood films. This classic has served as a benchmark for all other heist films thereafter and still maintains its vitality and relevance.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

The first true directorial effort of Quentin Tarantino, this movie uses flashbacks to depict a heist on a diamond warehouse. As writer and director, Tarantino had great control over this film and his distinct style is very evident. The film is set completely in a warehouse except for the flashbacks, which emphasize the heavy violence and actions of the main characters. The well-written script is skillfully enacted by veterans Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth and Steve Buscemi. While it is extremely violent and visceral, “Reservoir Dogs” is an intelligent heist movie worth seeing for its unique approach to the genre.

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

This Guy Ritchie film is a strangely addictive heist movie where four idiots try to scam a group of dumb drug dealers. “Lock Stock” combines an intelligent heist plot with quick, witty British humor. The actors, headlined by Jason Statham (“The Transporter”) speak in clipped British accents and drop several instant-classic quotable lines. Ritchie directs his movie with a fast style that heightens the tension of the heist while bringing out the comedic elements inherent thanks to the foolishness of the characters. Gritty and original, “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” stands out as a unique and fresh take on the traditional genre film.

Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

A remake of the 1960 Rat Pack film by the same name, “Ocean’s Eleven” lists an all-star cast that includes George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia and Julia Roberts. Director Steven Soderbergh helms the casino heist movie in a slick, cool style befitting its Las Vegas setting. The theft involved is one of the more unlikely ever devised for a heist film, but the vigor with which the characters approach their task makes it palatable and very entertaining. From the look of the film to its music to the acting, “Ocean’s Eleven” exudes a clever, charismatic feel from start to finish.

The Italian Job (2003)

Another remake of a ’60s film, “The Italian Job” is a fun, action packed movie that stars Mark Wahlberg as a master thief plotting a large heist in the middle of Los Angeles. A supporting cast of Charlize Theron, Edward Norton and Donald Sutherland keep the movie entertaining, but the real fun lies in the stunts. Car chases abound here, especially with the new Mini-Cooper vehicle made famous in the film. It is obvious that the film crew took pride in their stunts and special effects, as most of the main actors performed their own stunts. This adds realism to the film and allows audiences to engross themselves in the action of the film.

All these heist films have in common the quality to grab the imagination of an audience and run away with it, including the audience as participants in schemes to steal and swindle. They remain vital pieces in the arsenal of Hollywood genre films.