‘Slash Film: The 14 Greatest Heist Movies Of The 21st Century’

Slash Film

As the past two decades have proved, the heist movie genre is as broad as they come. Real crimes can inspire fascinating biographical films, while current events allow filmmakers to explore relevant issues through perspectives of various criminals. Other heist films don’t aim for plausibility at all, and many cross over with other genres, such as comedy, action, or science fiction.

Just look at how popular franchises have incorporated heists into existing mythologies. “The Fast and the Furious” franchise was revitalized with the heist-oriented “Fast Five.” The Marvel Cinematic Universe added heist elements with the “Ant-Man” series. “Solo: A Star Wars Story” and the television show “The Mandalorian” occasionally lean on heist film tropes. And that’s just the beginning; since 2000, heist movies have been more inventive, experimental, and diverse than ever before.

And yet, while money is often the reward, the best heist films still rely on deeper emotional drama in addition to slick and exciting capers. Either the participants have other, more personal goals they must achieve in conjunction with the crime, or they’re looking for a way out of a profession they feel they’re no longer equipped for. Either way, these are the 14 greatest heist movies of the 21st century.

Ocean’s Eleven

“Ocean’s Eleven” isn’t just one of the most rewatchable films of all time. It’s also one of Hollywood’s greatest remakes. The ’60s Rat Pack film “Ocean’s 11” is a dull, unimaginative caper that relies on Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra’s charisma instead of legitimately clever storytelling. However, Steven’s Soderbergh’s brilliant 2001 remake took the premise of the original and reimagined it as a slick, modern thriller, kicking off a great trilogy.

Where the original movie uses its famous stars as a crutch, Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Eleven” gives each member of its incredible ensemble a memorable role. George Clooney stars as Daniel Ocean, a career criminal recently released from prison. Ocean is warned that he must stay out of trouble, but he’s unable to resist the allure of a highly profitable heist in Las Vegas. It’s also a personal mission; one of Ocean’s targets is a casino owned by Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who is now involved with Ocean’s ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts). The emotional stakes make the meticulously staged robberies more exciting, and create tension when Ocean doesn’t reveal his secret motives to his team.

Ocean’s team of experts includes Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), his best friend, who, despite his laid-back attitude, is concerned about Ocean’s attempts to win back Tess. Matt Damon’s performance as the sniveling Linus Caldwell is particularly amusing; Damon generally takes serious parts, and it’s entertaining to see him play an awkward buffoon.

Widows

“Widows” challenges the traditional perspective of heist films, and explores the intersection of race, gender, political corruption, and economic disparity. It’s an elegantly crafted film, which is even more exciting given that director Steven McQueen had never attempted a genre story before. With a screenplay by “Gone Girl” author Gillian Flynn, “Widows” finds the delicate balance it needs to get the most from its incredible ensemble.

Chicago teacher Veronica Rawlings (Viola Davis) is overcoming the devastating loss of her husband Harry (Liam Neeson), a bank robber who is killed in action. Harry’s clients seek his earnings, so Veronica decides to complete one of her husband’s unfinished crimes. She enlists the help of Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), whose husbands worked with Harry. Their operation targets the corrupt local politician Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall), whose son Jack (Colin Farrell) is running for mayor.

Baby Driver

Writer-director Edgar Wright enjoys subverting genre formulas with films that both honor and lampoon cinematic classics. “Baby Driver” has a lot in common with older caper and car chase films, but its unique soundtrack and idiosyncratic humor are entirely original. Further, despite the light tone, the central romance is surprisingly sincere.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) was born with tinnitus, and needs to listen to music in order to function. As a result, his focus and speed are elevated, making him the perfect getaway driver. Baby works for the enigmatic Atlanta kingpin Doc (Kevin Spacey), who offers protection as Baby works to pay off his debts. Doc also employs the love-stricken, yet ruthless couple Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eliza Gonzales), who are charmed by Baby, and the unpredictable gangster Bats (Jamie Foxx).

Baby’s world turns upside down when he meets a waitress named Debora (Lily James) and instantly falls for her. Realizing that he finally has a reason to leave this dangerous life behind, Baby tries to tell Doc that their next operation could be his last. What follows is a thrilling, fast-paced, and stylish heist adventure; the car chases are brilliantly coordinated with the soundtrack, which helps tell the story from Baby’s perspective.

Killing Them Softly

Both a stylized piece of noir filmmaking and a deconstruction of the financial crisis, Andrew Dominik’s “Killing Them Softly” shows the impact that the robbery of an illegal card gaming has on a local economy. The films’ events parallel the immediate aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and presidential election.

The low-level criminal Squirrel (Vincent Curatola) recruits two foolish robbers, Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), to steal from a Mafia-fronted poker tournament. The game’s ring leader, Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), is a powerful figure in the local crime community, but is suspected of having run an inside job and orchestrated a staged robbery of one of his own tournaments. The heist goes horribly wrong, and in the aftermath Frankie, Russell, and Markie are targeted by the Mafia.

Hitmen Jackie (Brad Pitt) and Mickey (James Gandolfini) are called in to track the crooks down. Mickey regrets his life choices, and fears that the mob will force him to return to prison. Although Gandolfini is best known for his iconic role on “The Sopranos,” he’s extremely sympathetic in “Killing Them Softly” as a sensitive older man.

The Town

While the plot of “The Town” is not particularly original, it’s the precision and emotional authenticity that director Ben Affleck brings to the film that make it brilliant. “The Town” gave Affleck a showcase for his intensity as a filmmaker, while also providing space for the actor to give one of the best performances of his career.

Affleck stars as Doug MacRay, a Boston bank robber who manages a team alongside lifelong friends Jem Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Gloansy MacGloan (Slaine), and Dez Elden (Owen Burke). Doug is experienced and can easily handle stressful situations, but is unexpectedly moved after a bank teller, Claire Keesy (Rebecca Hall), becomes emotionally flustered during a frantic heist. When Doug has a chance encounter with Claire later, he’s compassionate and offers to help her work through this difficult time. Claire has no idea that Doug is the man who threatened her during the robbery.

Affleck pays homage to classic heist thrillers, with bank robbery sequences reminiscent of Michael Mann films like “Thief” and “Heat.” Obviously, Affleck is a staple of the Boston community, and the way he incorporates specific local details into the film makes “The Town” feel more realistic. The performances are incredible throughout — Renner received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor for playing a wildly unpredictable character.

The Place Beyond The Pines

“The Place Beyond the Pines” explores the impact that a crime can have on multiple generations. Derek Cianfrance’s challenging and emotional film shows how one moment forever connects two families, and defines their descendants’ futures. Heist movies are rarely this introspective; scattered amid the realistic, chaotic bank robbery sequences are quieter moments, during which only the score plays.

Stunt motorcycle driver Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) has a difficult relationship with his wife Romina (Eva Mendes), but feels that he must provide for their infant son amidst economic hardship. Romina wants Luke to be a more responsible father, but his drive to seek out danger puts a wedge between them. Luke is pursued by the honorable police officer Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), who faces pressure to join the corrupt senior law enforcement officials in an embezzlement scam. Luke and Avery are both sympathetic, challenging’ viewers perceptions of each when they come into conflict.

After one of Luke’s ambitious heists goes horribly wrong, the film explores the immediate impact the aftermath has on Avery’s reputation. “The Place Beyond the Pines” then goes further into its timeline to explore how Luke’s grown up son Jason (Dane DeHaan) reacts to his father’s secrets, and how Avery’s son A.J. (Emory Cohen) grows up in his father’s shadow.

Drive

“Drive” explores the life of a getaway driver through stylized, experimental filmmaking. Nicholas Winding Refn’s Los Angeles-set thriller spawned many imitators with its synthetic soundtrack, neon lighting, and surprisingly earnest romance, but it’s more than just an aesthetic exercise. While “Drive” is an expressionist work interested in the psychology of a man on the run, its heist sequences are electrifying. 

A nameless driver (Ryan Gosling) works as a mechanic during the day, while spending his nights secretly aiding the vicious criminal Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks). Rose likes the driver because he rarely speaks, doesn’t ask questions about his tasks, and never engages in personal conversations with the assembled teams. The driver is lonely, but finds hope when he falls in love with his new next door neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan). Irene is charmed by the mysterious man, and for the first time the driver has a reason to put violence aside.

The wholesome romance is quickly threatened after Irene’s husband Standard Gabriel (Oscar Isaac), a violent ex-felon, is released from prison. Standard attempts to recruit the driver for a new heist, and he’s caught between his conflicting loyalties to Irene and Rose. While that emotional tension is the heart of “Drive,” the getaway sequences are incredible. The driver is incredibly intelligent, and the audience should be thrilled to see how each of his decisions pay off during each heist’s conclusion.

Hell Or High Water

Although heist films are often thought of as fun capers, some modern heist flicks address the current social and political climate. Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay for “Hell or High Water” explores how the dominance of corporate banks in small Texas communities harms local residents, and the elegant direction from director David Mackenize compliments the heavy message with exciting heist sequences.

“Hell or High Water” follows brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster), who rob a series of Texas Midland Banks across West Texas. The brothers only steal small bills so that the money can’t be tracked, and their plan ensures that it’s only the banks’ money that is being stolen. They’re sympathetic to the local employees, but aren’t afraid to get into intense shootouts. The Howards’ reputation grows, and the Texas Rangers Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) are tasked with tracking them down. Hamilton plans to retire soon and announces that the mission will be his last; Alberto wants to rise in the ranks in order to support his large family.

Each of the four leads are relatable, and the dueling rivalries lead to some surprising humor. Toby is level-headed and plans to use the money to pay for his children’s college education; Tanner simply loves the thrill of the chase. Hamilton enjoys teasing Alberto and mocks his heritage, but the insults aren’t mean-spirited, and the pair eventually develops a solid friendship.

American Animals

“American Animals” takes a fascinating approach towards telling a true crime story. Documentary filmmaker Bart Layton created a unique docudrama that tells the story of four Transylvania University students who steal a collection of expensive books from their school’s library. The film incorporates real interviews with the subjects, who express their regret in the years following their release from prison. However, it also includes dramatized recreations of the story which play as the subjects narrate the action.

Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoughan) feels unfulfilled by his unexciting life, and is fascinated by the school’s resident troublemaker, Warren Lipka (Evan Peters). Lipka is considered to have great potential as a student and athlete, but often engages in petty crimes. He proposes the library heist to Spencer, and they recruit the geeky tactician Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson) and top athlete Chris Allen (Blake Jenner) to assist them. What’s fascinating about “American Animals” is that the events are often revisited multiple times, as the interviewees’ stories often clash. Lipka claims to have met with the international mobster Mr. Van Der Hoek (Udo Kier); while Lipka’s journey to Europe is depicted, Spencer suggests that the events may be made up.

“American Animals” details the post-heist anxiety that the subjects feel after their harrowing plan goes awry. Not only are they unsure what to do with the artifacts they’ve stolen, but they’re traumatized by a moment when they were forced to attack the librarian, Betty Jean Gooch (Ann Dowd). The interviewees also reflect on how they weren’t greedy, but simply felt their lives lacked excitement.

Logan Lucky

Steven Soderbergh certainly knows his way around a crime flick. In addition to launching the “Ocean’s” trilogy, Soderbergh helmed heist classics like “Out of Sight,” “The Underneath,” and the showy and stylish “No Sudden Move.” Soderbergh’s attention to detail and empathy for his character has pushed the genre’s boundaries — the southern caper comedy “Logan Lucky” is another welcome addition to both Soderbergh’s filmography and heist movie canon.

Blue-collar worker Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) has problems. Not only is he unexpectedly laid off, but he’s also concerned about the well-being of his Iraq War veteran brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and his waitress sister Mellie (Riley Keough). In addition, Jimmy wants to become more involved in his young daughter Sadie’s life, but his ex-wife Bobbie (Katie Holmes) questions his financial stability. 

So, Jimmy decides to rob the Texas Motor Speedway, and enlists the help of uproarious incarcerated criminal Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) to do so. Part of the fun of “Logan Lucky” is that Jimmy isn’t a slick charmer like Danny Ocean, and Soderbergh is sympathetic to the plight of the working class in the face of big business.

Inception

Although its sci-fi worldbuilding is ambitious and complicated, “Inception” is first and foremost a heist thriller. It’s ultimately the story of a thief attempting to make up for his past mistakes, and shows the intense planning that goes into a complex robbery. It’s the setting that makes Christopher Nolan’s densely packed epic original: the heists themselves take place in the victims’ subconscious.

Dream thief Dominic Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) heads a team of infiltration experts who can enter the thoughts of high-profile targets. Although the action takes place in dreams, Cobb’s marks are powerful, and he seeks a change of lifestyle. In particular, Cobb wants to return to the United States so that he can be reunited with his children, who are cared for by his father-in-law, Professor Stephen Miles (Michael Caine). His longtime companion Arthur (Joseph-Gordon Levitt) finds a wealthy client who might help Cobb return home.

The Japanese businessman Mr. Saito (Ken Watanabe) wants Cobb’s help performing the unusual task of “inception” — rather than steal an idea from someone’s memory, Cobb must insert one. Cobb hastily accepts the proposal, and realizes he must expand his team in order to perform the complex procedure. He recruits the brilliant architecture student Ariadne (Elliot Page) to help him create a map, and the charismatic British forger Eames (Tom Hardy) to give them false identities.

Sexy Beast

“Sexy Beast” is a slick, stylized British gangster flick that features one of the greatest film villains of the 21st century. Ben Kingsley is captivating as the London mob recruiter Don Logan, and his equally terrifying and eccentric performance earned him an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. Logan forces his former associates to return to their prior professions, and intimidates retired safecracker Gal Dove (Ray Winstone) into working a job for mobster Teddy Bass (Ian McShane).

Dove is an empathetic character. He’s happily retired in Spain, but has always feared that his violent past will return to haunt him. Director Jonathan Glazer uses untraditional music choices to score some of the key sequences — although the violence is realistic, the energetic music creates a tonal clash that is unsettling. It’s not always clear if Glazer intends these moments to be shocking or humorous, and that unpredictability fits the wild nature of the story.

Dragged Across Concrete

While heist films are often thought of as kinetically paced, “Dragged Across Concrete” is very slow. It’s essentially a hang out movie that explores what happens in between exciting moments. At nearly three hours long, “Dragged Across Concrete” risks growing dull, and for many viewers a later-day Mel Gibson movie can (rightfully) be a hard sell, but the entertaining dialogue from writer-director S. Craig Zahler offers a sensitive perspective on police corruption and brutality.

Police detective Brett Ridgeman wants to move his wife and daughter out of their dangerous neighborhood, but is put on leave due to public blowback after he’s caught brutalizing a man on tape. Ridgeman still has connections to criminal associates, and enlists his partner Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn) to assist him with a robbery. Neither character is particularly likeable, but it’s fascinating to hear the two banter as they attempt to justify their actions.

The Score

“The Score” unites three generations of movie stars. In 2001, Edward Norton was one of the industry’s fastest rising talents, Robert De Niro was reaching the end of his comeback period, and Marlon Brando graced the screen with one of his final performances. Director Frank Oz highlighted their respective talents with an old-fashioned caper that ends with a shocking twist, leading to a film that succeeds despite the famous on-set conflicts between Oz and Brando.

Experienced safecracker Nick Wells (De Niro) decides to retire, but the allure of a French national treasure worth $4 million makes him reconsider. Nick sees the payoff as a chance to create a legitimate business for his longtime girlfriend Diane (Angela Bassett), who dreams of opening a luxury restaurant. He courts the talents of a young thief named Jack (Norton), who uses elaborate disguises, and sets up a plan with his mentor Max (Brando), who empathizes with the man he’s employed throughout his career.

Read this next: The 20 Best Westerns Of All Time

The post The 14 Greatest Heist Movies of the 21st Century appeared first on /Film.

/Film – ‘Slash Film: The 14 Greatest Heist Movies Of The 21st Century’
Author: Liam Gaughan
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October 11, 2021

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