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A look at the best heists on film

by THN


Heist films are a perennial favourite amongst movie goers and the best of them are a heady concoction of suspense, ingenuity and maverick characters. A good heist film needs at least one intensely determined protagonist prepared to break every mold in his quest to pull off a brilliant job. From the original plan, to the inevitable errors and challenges along the way, through to the jubilant get-away scenes, an outstanding heist movie will keep you on the edge of your seat.

This feeling can be experienced throughout Ben Affleck’s The Town (2010), a movie set in Charlestown, Boston. This gritty, hard-hitting story sees a gang of old friends mastermind a daring bank robbery, which goes awry. One of the gang, Doug, must forge a relationship with the bank’s manager, Claire, in order to ascertain how much she knows and how much she’s told the police. Following the 2010 release of The Town, a Boston-based gang admitted taking inspiration from the film. The men, who carried out some 62 robberies had splashed bleach on ATMs and cash drawers, cut the power supply to locations they planned to rob and wore miners’ headlamps to see in the dark – just like their film heroes. Of course, in real life, most venues carrying vast quantities of cash or valuable goods use the very latest technology to protect themselves. Take for example, the security at modern casinos. In Ocean’s 11, Danny Ocean (played by George Clooney) gathers eleven of the world’s leading master-robbers to carry out an outrageous heist on three casinos owned by his love rival, Terry Benedict. The prize is $150 million, and the plan is complex. The men break into a casino vault and lace it with explosives before threatening Benedict that they’ll blow up his money unless he loads it into vans for them. In reality, of course, this would be completely unthinkable.

Another dramatic last minute escape is The Italian Job’s brilliant getaway scene. The Italian Job (1969), is a film classic in which a gang of comedy cockneys led by Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) hatch an ambitious plot to steal gold bullion by disguising themselves as guileless English football supporters. Gold and money aren’t always the main prize. In Gone in 60 Seconds, a 2000 film starting Nicholas Cage, cars (and lots of them) are the stolen property. Cage plays Memphis Raines, a legend of the car stealing world who is forced out of retirement to save the skin of his feckless brother Kip. Memphis must carry out an extraordinary heist, stealing some 50 cars to offer as ransom for kidnapped Kip. Like The Italian Job before it, Gone in 60 Seconds’ finest moment is the chase, which is dynamic, dramatic and ends up with Nicholas Cage engulfed in flames. While Gone in 60 seconds has a feeling of high camp about it, other heist films take a more measured, realistic approach.

One such film is Heat, which stars Robert De Niro as master criminal Neil McCauley and Al Pacino as Lieutenant Hanna. Based on the real life exploits of a Chicago police officer, the story sees McCauley attempt to pull off one last big job before retirement. Interestingly, Heat is the first film in which Robert De Niro and Al Pacino appear together on screen.

Whether they’re moody and hard-hitting like The Town, upbeat and fun like The Italian Job, or high-octane and action-packed like Gone in 60 Seconds, all these films and their plots have one thing in common – in the real world, they’d falter and fail. For pure escape and entertainment however, you can’t beat a heist film.

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