There's something about a good cinematic heist that's hard to resist. Who doesn't love watching the intense, painstaking planning undertaken by the would-be robbers, the sheer audacity of the crimes they commit (remember Tom Cruise infiltrating CIA HQ in Mission: Impossible?) and the eventual, and often bloody, meting out of justice at the end?
While Hollywood has produced many great heist movies over the years, the following movies revolutionised the heist genre with storylines, characters and film-making techniques that surprised and shocked us. They brought us face to face with our own deeply-hidden greed or anger, and made us question our own morals. They also gave us brilliant insights into the human mind, character, and the values that define our changing times. Here are the top 5 Hollywood heist films.
The Killing (1956)
The oldest film on this list, Stanley Kubrick's The Killing is about a racetrack heist that almost succeeds, only to unravel at the very end. Although it wasn't a commercial success at the time, The Killing is today considered one of the best crime films ever made. It is celebrated for many things: its 'noir' style, which accentuates the sinister and sombre tone of the film, the non-linear timeline, and most importantly, the highly-detailed characters, whose motives for participating in the heist vary widely: a weak-willed window teller trying to impress his two-timing wife; a corrupt policeman; a bartender who needs the money to pay his wife's medical bills; and the ringleader who wants to get married and settle down with the money he will make from the crime.
Made in the 50s, The Killing was well ahead of its time. But its immense popularity in later decades makes it one of the most influential heist movies ever.
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Reservoir Dogs is as colourful as a heist movie can get: both literally and metaphorically. The movie is about a botched-up jewellery theft, committed by a six-member gang whose members call themselves Mr. Blonde, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, Mr. Orange, Mr. Pink and Mr. White respectively. After the crime goes sour, they begin suspecting a police informer in their midst—who is revealed only at the movie's blood-soaked end.
If the names of the characters in Reservoir Dogs are colourful, the dialogue is no less vivid: laced with profanity, quirky wit, and chilling violence. However, what really makes Reservoir Dogs stand out is its refusal to choose between being serious, dramatic or funny. The tone of the movie varies from comic to sardonic to horrific and suspenseful—and the formula actually worked. The film also changed the perception of bank robbers from masked desperados to wise-cracking, strutting professionals in suits and sunglasses—a motif that also inspired many other films.
Ocean's Eleven (2001)
Ocean's Eleven is often considered the gold standard of heist movie-making. Instead of the usual car chases and flying bullets that are par for the course in such movies, its biggest strength is its stylish direction and cast, which make it an urbane, inoffensive and light-hearted film (indeed, one of the robbers' mottos is 'Don't hurt anybody').
Centered on a gang that draws up an outrageous plan to rob three extremely well-protected casinos, Ocean's Eleven is slickly shot, with not a single hair, musical note, or camera angle out of place. The film also brought together some of Hollywood's biggest stars at the time: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and Matt Damon, and their easy-going banter, witty dialogues and effortless acting make the film one of the all-time classics of the heist genre.
According to reports, Inception was initially conceived as a horror film, but eventually written as a heist movie. This movie rewrote all the rules of the genre, and stands out for the forceful creativity that defines it.
The movie is about a corporate espionage expert who steals secrets from the dreams of powerful individuals for a living. However, he meets a prospective client who wants him to do the reverse: undertake a frighteningly risky venture to plant an idea in the mind of a rival CEO. By taking robbery from the purely physical domain to the mental and psychological, Inception is in a rare category of mind-bending heist films, the likes of which have rarely been explored before or since by Hollywood.
Hell Or High Water (2016)
Cut to 2016, and it is gritty reality, not greed, that is the motive for the protagonists of Hell Or High Water (HOHW), one of the best heist films in recent years. HOHW stays clear of heist movie tropes like cat burglars, elaborate deceptions, beautiful cars, women and mansions. The movie revolves around two brothers struggling to save their family ranch from being seized by the bank—by looting the same bank to pay off their loan.
HOHW presents some very believable characters—a Texan father desperate to leave his sons a legacy of something other than poverty, and his brother, an ex-convict who is unapologetic about his love for crime. And then there are the two policemen chasing the brothers: a hard-boiled Ranger on the verge of retirement, and his Native-American partner, with whom the former trades affectionate racist insults.
The movie reveals some delicious insights about the motives of the characters, and the socio-economic realities of small-town America. The protagonists, victims of the 2008 economic crash, are about to lose their property to the bank, which is symbolic of the financial system that created the crash in the first place. The fact that they choose to launder their money at a Native American casino also exposes the irony of white Americans taking help from Natives—whose land was taken away by the whites in the first place—to save their land from the banks. The movie's refusal to turn ordinary people into heroes or villains, its portrayal of genuine brotherhood thriving on both sides of the law, and its assertion that redemption can mean different things to different people are what make HOHW a truly unique movie in the heist genre.
Hell Or High Water breathes fresh life into the Hollywood heist genre, thanks to its realistic depiction of poverty, desperation and duty. The characters and situations are real and identifiable, and will leave you wondering which side you're really on—the robbers', the cops', both, or neither. Audiences can catch this taut thriller on Sunday,12 November, 2017, at 1 pm and 9 pm on &Privé HD. With its roster of acclaimed films, &Privé HD is an HD-only premium destination for the finest English cinema in the Indian broadcast space, and is designed for the discerning cinema lover who 'feels the other side of cinema'.