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Movie Heists: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Whether existing only as simple-minded escapist fun or playing to everyone’s secret desire to become a wanted thief, double cross your partner and shoot it out with the coppers, movie heists satisfy our unlawful urges, thus preventing us from landing in the very real slammer (plus I hear Atticus Finch is booked solid). 

Though most always brazen and inherently ridiculous, cinematic robberies do not always have a Hollywood ending, so to speak. Ironically, in most cases these meticulously planned plots conclude far closer to reality than our villainous masterminds would have liked. So let’s run down the good, the bad and the ugly of movie heists -- spoilers follow.


--The GOOD--

The "Mini Cooper Escape" in The Italian Job

Heists on the run, so to speak, always add another layer of tension and excitement, especially when you are being pursued by a helicopter, gun wielding bikers and Edward Norton. Stealing a few dozen gold bars while in transit from your cold-blooded former associate could easily go the way of total crap-shoot, but with both the ample maneuvrability of the Mini Cooper and the aid of some pissed-off Ukrainian mobsters, Mark E Mark and his funky bunch of thieves got away in style.


"The Deceptive Bank Robbery" in Bandits

This little seen 2001 bank robbery/love triangle/comedy stars Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thorton and Cate Blanchett as two convicted thieves and their mutual love interest respectively. Escaping from prison, they meet Blanchet’s Kate and are both immediately smitten. After their competitive nature drives her away, they decide to pull off one last job (never a good idea) and ends in a bloody shootout between the former partners -- or so it would seem. Alas, this trio is too smart for the average cop and the partners fake their violent deaths in order to smuggle the money out of the bank.


The “Laser Dance Caper" in Entrapmententrapmentpic

Although we all secretly wanted to see a 69-year-old Sean Connery flex his way through dancing security lasers, we had to settle for the sultry Catherine Zeta-Jones infiltrating the International Clearance Bank in Kuala Lumpur. This iconic heist sets itself against the arrival of the new millennium with Sean Connery’s aging art thief teaming with an enigmatic insurance investigator. Their plan? To siphon small amounts of money from the accounts of customers, all traces of which will be erased when the year turns 2000. Any caper which allows you to get away scot free with $8 billion is a success in my book.


Every part of Inside Man

Spike Lee went mainstream for this 2006 bank robbery flick boasting a fresh side order of cat and mouse with a hostage negotiator (Denzel Washington) and a smooth-talking thief (Clive Owen) battling back and forth in a war of wits. Like many of the all-time greatest heist flicks, the robbery consumes the entire running length and gives you a great twist as only this genre can. The highlight of this caper is how Owen’s Dalton Russell deals with the problem of those pesky witnesses, that and how to make a hostage negotiator crap himself with nothing more than a squib.


oceans11picThe "Casino Vault Heist" in Oceans Eleven

As far as incredibly elaborate robberies are concerned, you would be hard-pressed to rival that of Danny Ocean and his ten compatriots. Any team boasting an Asian contortionist has a leg up -- and arm around, and head backwards – on their mark. Their intricately planned infiltration of Terry Benedict’s (Andy Garcia) casino vault is as much about revenge as it is the moola after one of their own is put in the hospital. Their follow-up robberies may not have had the same flair as their premier job but you can’t stop a winning streak.



--The BAD--

The "Bank Robbery and Shootout" in Heat

Fifteen years after its release, Heat’s intense and explosive bank robbery is still widely considered one of film's best sequences of all time. What is not nearly as positive (for those involved at least) is the heist itself, with De Niro and team slaughtering dozens of cops and losing one of their own in the process. Any time you are packing M-16s you are just begging for trouble, but I suppose there is something to be said for brazen lunacy, which these violent thugs provide with flair.


The "Dream Infiltration" in Inception

There is little more that can be said, analyzed, nit-picked, fought over or debated about Inception and its many ambiguities, but what seems to take a back seat to these discussions is what a nifty little heist thriller Nolan’s latest really is. Cobb and company’s plan is well thought out enough, but as we soon learn, anything can happen when we plunge three dreams deep into someone’s psyche. Again, this proves “one last job” is never a good idea, though they do finally manage to achieve inception. However, as many would argue, to what ultimate conclusion?


The "Jewel Heist" in A Fish Called Wandaafishcalledwandapic

Though the robbery in A Fish Called Wanda comprises only the very opening of this British comedy, it is the immediate aftermath that causes their well-laid plans to spiral into fish-eating disarray. Even the best strategies can end in chaos when one must deal with the stupidity of Kevin Kline’s Otto (I’m sorry, I shouldn’t call him stupid). The double (or triple or quadruple) cross is a staple of heist films and when crossed with Monty Python-style mayhem is easily a classic -- unless of course you have an aversion to watching someone getting flattened by a steamroller.


The "Customs House Robbery" in The Score

Just when things have been going so well, you have to go and screw your partner, that and going on one last job in the first place (do people in movies not watch movies?). Robert De Niro and Edward Norton play two thieves, one seasoned and one a hot shot (naturally) who team up to steal a priceless sceptre from the Montreal Customs House. Infiltrating the caged enclosure, they shred the safe using nothing but dynamite and water leaving the treasure within unscathed. This is both Norton’s and De Niro’s second appearance on this list, so if I were the IRS I may take a quick look at their financials.


nationaltreasurepicThe "National Archives Siege" in National Treasure

The reluctant thief is always an interesting premise, made even more dynamic when that person is an off-kilter Nicolas Cage. Cage’s Benjamin Gates must infiltrate the National Archives to steal The Declaration of Independence before it is stolen by another band of thieves led by the always evil Sean Bean. He manages to liberate the document but not without being shot at and chased for the next few days by gun-toting thugs and the police. This heist just reinforces the argument that pretty much every secure place in the world needs to install better security around their surveillance system. That, and the fat dounut-eating security guards in the control room should keep their eyes on the screen.



--The UGLY--

The bank robbery in Dog Day Afternoon

I’m not sure, you be the judge. Do you think telling his honor you robbed a bank to pay for your lovers very personal operation is compelling enough an argument to get you off charges? Maybe not, but alas for poor Sonny (Al Pacino) things go horribly wrong and his partner is gunned down during the course of the robbery -- a tragic ending to be sure. This goes to show kids that crime never pays; maybe the bank wouldn’t approve the sex change operation loan.


The various “Die Hard” plotsdiehardpic

Five words -- they strike fear into the hearts of even the most seasoned criminal. When uttered, you can be sure that your elaborate caper is soon coming to a crashing halt (along with your life). "Yippee Ki Yay Mother F****r!" Whether diving out a high-rise wearing only a wife-beater and a fire hose or fighting it out with an F-15, John McClane knows how to spoil any mastermind’s day.  Maybe future villains should try something safer like corporate fraud or a pyramid scheme? I suppose that wouldn’t make a very compelling movie.


The "Riverboat Casino Plan" in The Ladykillers

Sure Hans Gruber and his “Die Hard” compadres suffered a blow to their pride (and often their brains) in the course of their heists, but at least they were not foiled by a pillow-wielding granny. Tom Hanks in full Colonel Sanders mode and his gang of flunkies plot to tunnel into a riverboat casino through the basement wall of dear Marva Munson. But much like a reverse Forrest Gump, Ms. Munson’s blissful ignorance leads to everyone’s ultimate demise and a bit fuller Mississippi landfill.


The many bank robberies in Point Break

Four more years! The late Patrick Swayze stars as the iconic surfing bank robber Bodhi, who along with his gang dress up like former U.S. presidents for their heists. What Nixon and gang didn’t count on was Johnny Utah, an undercover cop with a taste for theatrics. Their shoot-em-up antics are short lived it would seem and a high-flying climax shows the dedication of our men in uniform; never let a suspect get away, parachute or not.


resdogspicThe bank robbery in Reservoir Dogs

This literally colourful gang of thieves should be regarded as the ultimate template for how not to rob a bank. Make sure you don’t sound the alarm, don’t gun down cops, don’t try and carjack anyone in America and for damn sure don’t tell your dangerous colleague that you’re a cop (less ear-chopping is also recommended). You know when Steve Buscemi is the lone survivor your plans have gone horribly horribly wrong.


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