2001, Movie, R, 107 mins


There's never one twist too many in a David Mamet thriller — it's always more like two or three. But for most of its running time, this '70s-style caper picture (think grit, not gloss) is solidly entertaining and surprisingly free of the Mamet-isms that can suck the life right out of the most tightly crafted story. Joe Moore's (Gene Hackman) life in crime is the stuff of legend. He keeps his head low, covers his criminal activities with a custom boat-building business and lives by the credo that it's not getting the goods that counts — it's getting away with them. But Joe's luck is running out; during a jewelry-store robbery, Joe's face is caught on a security tape. He's been in the business long enough to know when he's burnt, so he intends to cash out and decamp with his much-younger wife, Fran (Rebecca Pidgeon, Mamet's wife and frequent collaborator). But Moore's fence, Bergman (Danny DeVito), has other plans. He wants Joe to spirit a load of gold off a Swiss cargo plane, and when Joe refuses, Bergman holds back the cash from the jewelry job. Backed against the wall, Joe commits his loyal confederates — Fran, Bobby Blane (Delroy Lindo) and Pinky (Ricky Jay) — only to be told he has to include Bergman's hot-headed nephew, Jimmy Silk (Sam Rockwell). The plans are drawn up, but the vain and inexperienced Jimmy makes everyone antsy. Problems arise: Bobby threatens to walk, Pinky screws up, Jimmy gives Fran the eye. Joe's in, then out, then in again. The question is, which complications are for real, and which are elaborate head games? And the bigger question is, who's zooming who? Like HOUSE OF GAMES and THE SPANISH PRISONER, this painstakingly assembled house of cards (marked, of course) stands or falls on performance, and the understated interplay between Hackman and Lindo is a pure pleasure to watch. While magician-turned-actor Ricky Jay (a charter member of the Mamet crowd) isn't the actor they are, he has a sly, ingratiating presence; DeVito blusters energetically and Rockwell does his best with a thankless role and a sleazy dye job. Only because Pidgeon is in such solid company does she not undermine the entire film: Her fussy, actressy manner makes her look like a callow drama student playing at being a hard-bitten dame, and her tough-cookie dialogue is chalk-on-a-blackboard grating. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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