Tag Archives: john frankenheimer

Bank Vaults & Bullion: Nate’s Top Ten Heist Films

Why are Heist flicks so much fun? Is it the brotherly camaraderie between a pack of thieves out to pull a job? The elaborate ruses and ditch efforts employed to deceive and elude authorities? Gunfights n’ car chases? Safe cracking? Priceless art? For me it’s all of the above and more, this is a rip roaring sub genre ripe with possibilities, packed with twist laden narratives and filled with pure escapism at every turn. Here are my top ten personal favourites!

10. Mimi Leder’s The Code aka Thick As Thieves

This is admittedly kind of a middle of the road, not so amazing film but I really dig it anyways. So basically a veteran jewel thief (Morgan Freeman) hires a skilled rookie (Antonio Banderas) to pull off an apparently impossible diamond heist in order to pay back a dangerous Russian mobster (Rade Servedzija) he owes for another job. Meanwhile an obsessed detective (Robert Forster) watches their every move and waits to pounce while a slinky mystery woman (Radha Mitchell) gets in the way and manipulates everyone. It’s low key and nothing super groundbreaking but as passable entertainment with a terrific cast and some genuinely clever twists it does the job. Oh and a young Tom Hardy shows up too, which is a nice bonus.

9. Spike Lee’s Inside Man

My favourite Spike Lee joint sees super thief Clive Owen break into a high profile NYC bank and streetwise cop Denzel Washington try to figure out what he’s after, a task that doesn’t prove so easy. This is a whip smart, caffeinated and oh so slightly self aware crime thriller that is so watchable even the actors seem to have a small smirk just getting to be a part of it. The narrative does some delicious roper dopes, pinwheels and double turns and by the end of it you’ll find yourself thinking back to the start just to see how it all ended up the way it does.

8. Scott Frank’s The Lookout

Psychological drama combines deftly with criminal intrigue in this tale of a brain damaged ex hockey player (Joseph Gordon Levitt) who gets roped into a rural bank robbery. This is a dark, idiosyncratic story with vivid performances from all including Matthew Goode as the guy who organizes the job and Jeff Daniels as Levitt’s blind roommate.

7. Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast

Ben Kingsley basically grabs this film from the get go and tears it to shreds with a mad dog performance, but in and around his shenanigans is a brilliant London set narrative that sees retired expert Gal (Ray Winstone) jetting back for one last job. With a sharp, acidic script, jet black humour and eccentric performances across the board, this becomes a terrific heist film with a dash of many other things sprinkled in.

6. Jonathan Sobol’s The Art Of The Steal

This one flew right under the radar despite a fresh, funny story and a stacked cast. Ex art thief turned motorcycle daredevil Kurt Russell is lured out of semi retirement by his terminally untrustworthy brother (Matt Dillon) to steal a priceless work along with a highly dysfunctional crew of would be professionals. The story is brilliantly told and leaves plenty of room for actors to improvise and inject their own personality. This deserved way more acclaim that it got and I’ve always wondered why such a slick flick with Kurt Russell in the lead never even got a theatrical release. You also get the legendary Terence Stamp stealing scenes as the world’s grumpiest art thievery guru turned federal informant too.

5. Michael Mann’s Thief

Rain slicked streets, restless urban nocturnes and expert thieves taking down big scores. Mann first distilled his crime aesthetic here in the tale of one master thief (James Caan) looking for one last big job that will allow him to retire with his wife (Tuesday Weld) and kid. Featuring vivid performances from Willie Nelson, Jim Belushi, Dennis Farina and Robert Prosky, a gorgeous synth score by Tangerine Dream and visuals that dazzle with colour, shiny steel and iridescent nightscapes, this a crime classic that set the bar for many to come after.

4. John Frankenheimer’s Ronin

This film is a lot of things; car chase flick, Cold War spy game, battlefield allegory, Agatha Christie style whodunit and yes, a heist flick too although the job itself is kind of just a McGuffin that initiates a deliriously fun Europe trotting action film that sees a rogues gallery of mercenaries for hire make their way from London to Nice in search of a suitcase whose contents are never revealed. Robert DeNiro, Stellan Skarsgard, Jonathan Pryce, Sean Bean, Jean Reno and Natascha McElhone are all on fire as dodgy rapscallions whose moral compasses, or lack thereof, are slowly revealed with each new turn of events.

3. Danny Boyle’s Trance

This film begins with a London art heist that is straightforward and takes place in our physical world and then delves into another one that takes place decidedly within in the mind to steal hidden information. Boyle’s best film kind of blindsides you as it progresses, exploring concepts of hypnotism, morality, psychological conditions and eventually even relationships, all existing around the theft of a painting whose whereabouts remain a tantalizing mystery. This is mature, unexpected, affecting, dynamic, trippy and altogether unique storytelling and is one of my favourite films of the past decade.

2. Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven

The rat pack got an update in this impossibly cool ensemble piece revolving around the complex, brazen and often hilarious heist of three Vegas casinos by veteran thief Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his motley crew. The easygoing, laidback hum of Vegas is a relaxing atmosphere for Soderbergh & Co to make this breezy, brisk caper come alive and never outstay it’s welcome nor pass too fleetingly. The character work is sublime too, from Brad Pitt shovelling junk food in to his mouth in every scene to Bernie Mac causing HR drama to Carl Reiner masquerading as a middle eastern businessman and, my personal favourite, Elliott Gould as a fussy Jewish teddy bear of a casino kingpin.

1. Michael Mann’s Heat

Score two for Mann! This masterful LA crime saga is pretty much the granddaddy of heist flicks as bird of prey super-cop Al Pacino hunts down elusive master burglar Robert DeNiro in an expansive showdown that moves all over the city and has many players and moving parts. There’s a near mythological grandiosity to this film, as well as meticulous detail employed in all the ballsy scores taken on by DeNiro and in Pacino’s ruthless efforts to bring him down. From an explosive armoured car hijacking on the tangled LA overpass to one of the most spectacular bank robbery turned firefights and a moody, mournful final showdown this thing soars of wings of pure craftsmanship and aesthetic mastery.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill

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John Frankenheimer’s Reindeer Games

I’ve always enjoyed John Frankenheimer’s Reindeer Games, despite its chilly critical reputation. It’s a sleazy, nihilistic piece of ultra violent, stylized Christmas noir populated by mean, nasty characters who navigate deliciously convoluted plot turns, double crosses and backwoods criminal enterprise. Ben Affleck plays a hapless ex con having the worst Christmas of his life when his attempts to pose as a murdered cellmate (James Frain) and meet up with the guy’s sexy pen pal (Charlize Theron is next level hot in this) don’t quite go as smoothly as envisioned. He unwittingly gets caught up in a botched casino robbery orchestrated by her volatile career criminal brother (Gary Sinise) and his crew of murderous miscreants. This sets in motion an impossibly elaborate parade of shifting loyalties, multiple seductions on Theron’s part, inventive ways to murder people, Santas with guns, shootouts, chases and car explosions. Much of it is admittedly ridiculous and overblown but it’s never not fun, plus the Grinchy, misanthropic attitude and maladjusted vibe is somehow so infectious. Sinise’s merry little gang are brought to life by recognizable character faces like Donal Logue, Clarence Williams III and Danny Trejo, all charismatic and evil to the bone like a bunch of warped Christmas elves. The late great Dennis Farina plays an obstinate casino owner who makes the heist difficult for everyone, and Isaac Hayes has a bizarre cameo as an inmate who thinks there’s monsters in the prison food and causes an almighty ruckus. Affleck is a mopey guttersnipe here, a ‘wrong place wrong time’ sap who learns to cultivate a badass edge and deal with the kind of psychos he’s up against. Sinise is reliably violent and dangerous, but Theron really steals the show as a crafty, manipulative femme fatale whose true nature is cleverly hidden under a smokescreen of faux intentions. This isn’t an especially classy thriller, doesn’t set any new standards or anything, but what it does do is provide a nut punch of lowbrow thrills, lurid melodrama and bloody action to meet your masochistic Yuletide needs. Great stuff.

-Nate Hill

John Frankenheimer’s Dead Bang


John Frankenheimer’s Dead Bang makes no apologies for the straight up, down n’ dirty, violently obnoxious ninety minutes of rural crime mayhem it throws at you, containing no lofty subtext, tongue in cheek send ups or heady plot twists, purely and simply Don Johnson wiping out a gang of backwoods white supremacists and pissing off every superior officer along the way. A cop film to it’s roots, it’s a refreshing little diversion for Frankenheimer, who is known for taking on genre outings with ambitious undertones. Johnson is a flippant big city cop sent to the sticks to smoke out some neo-nazi assholes who are running guns, killing folks and all that fun stuff. He’s paired with a hysterically fussy FBI handler (William Forsythe, cast against type and loving it), and at odds with the psychotic ringleader of this gang (real life drill instructor Frank Military, also a solid actor), who proves to be quite a fly in the ointment. The action is rough and tumble and thoroughly R-rated, the villains are formidably nasty and Johnson’s cheeky super cop is wearily exasperated most of the time, out for the count but just gripping the edge as he hunts these yokels and deals with red tape including a department appointed shrink (Bob Balaban) who he hilariously mocks for looking like the Monopoly Guy in the film’s funniest bit, a riotous interlude. There’s scattershot work from Penelope Ann Miller, Mickey Jones, Michael Jeter, Tate Donovan and Garwin Sanford as well. Not a well known effort from firebrand Frankenheimer (I’ve heard some unbelievable stories from this set) but a really enjoyable shoot em up that deserves a far better rep. 

-Nate Hill

The Island Of Dr. Moreau


I don’t think there’s a film out there with a more volcanically troubled production history than John Frankenheimer’s The Island Of Dr. Moreau. It wasn’t even supposed to be helmed by him, rather an upstart named Richard Stanley, who’s control on the creative reigns was violently yanked away by the studio and given to notoriously fiery Frankenheimer, who, lets face it, could never really get his genetically altered ducks in a line when he took over. Between Val Kilmer acting like a lunatic and very nearly being replaced, Marlon Brando being an even bigger lunatic because he knew no one would ever replace him (the big guy had an ego to match his girth) and raging budget problems as a result of the antics, the making of this film was, in short, a fucking disaster. So now I’ve said my piece on the most talked about aspect of this film, I want to shift gears into an area that just doesn’t get covered a lot in discussion: the final film itself. Because of the maelstrom of bad PR circling the film like the storm that maroons our heroes on Moreau’s isle, many people just assume it’s a shit movie, which is not the case. I happen to love it, and if anything the level of obvious behind the scene chaos seeping through just gives it an organic unpredictability free from shackles of a script that I imagine was fairly generic in the conception phase. This is a bonkers film, no denial from me there, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t love every certifiable, furry prosthetic adorned, opulent, disorganized minute of it. David Thewlis took over from Kilmer as the lead, when Val had behavioural issues, but they’re both present and accounted for as the wreckage of a ship meets Moreau’s isle, a twisted Eden where human animal hybrids live under the delirious monarchy of the good Doctor, played with reliably laconic mania by Brando. He’s been playing god, the old codger, and his island is now home to a host of varied zoological wonders, and no narrative would be complete without it all going tits up in a giant mutiny later on. The practical effects are delightfully excessive and elaborate, packed onto specifically chosen actors who already have an ethereal, animalistic aura on their own. Ron Perlman is the sagely Sayer Of The Law, Marc Dacoscas the leopardly Lo Mai, Temuerra Morrison the lion like Azazello and wild eyed Fairuza Balk is feline goddess Aissa, who happens to be Moreau’s daughter. ‘She’s a pussy’ Kilmer quips in one of many candid slips of the tongue on his part. The inmates eventually run the asylum, or whichever clever parable you want to apply, and it hurtles towards a third act full of flying fur and fangs that releases the floodgates on Frankenheimer’s lack of cohesion, the mad scientist workshop of Stan Winston’s special effects, Brando’s bug eyed dementia and Kilmer’s ADHD riddled performance, in one scene going so off far off the rails that Thewlis has to literally break character and tell him to ‘quit fuckin around’, an unintentional laugh riot. Brando has a midget Mini Me, too, which is never fully explained but always good for a nervous laugh, as the thing looks like a fetus that vaulted out of the womb a few month too early, although I suppose that’s the point. Look, it’s a mess, but it’s a beautiful one, a kaleidoscopic parade of grotesque costumes and cartoonish performances wrapped up in a story so overblown and off the map it almost takes on a pulse of it’s own. For insight on what went down behind the scenes you can read Ron Perlman’s autobiography, watch the recent documentary on the film or simply check out IMDb trivia, but whatever went down for real, it ended up branding one of the most bizarre and wonderful creature features of the 90’s, and I love every feral, freaky minute of it. 

-Nate Hill