David Mamet is one of my favorite writers of all time. Only Samuel Beckett takes up more space on my bookshelf.

As a playwright, he’s the best America has living.
As an essayist, he is without parallel.
As a novelist, he is provocative, innovative and occasionally opaque.
As a screenwriter, he has brought us many sterling entertainments, including The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Verdict, The Untouchables, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Edge, Wag the Dog and Ronin.

Certainly, a writing career for anyone to envy, especially me.

It’s Mamet the director who presents a different kettle of fish.

House of Games, strangely, is still his most satisfying movie. The weird dialogue, the stilted Mamettian acting, all of it is of a piece, it doesn’t seem like it’s poorly done, it seems like a stylistic choice, and the script is very strong.

But every now and then Mamet the director lets Mamet the screenwriter get away with some lazy writing.

In Heist, the characters speak some of the cheesiest “tough guy” lines ever written. It’s all “Is dat th’ thing?” and “You’re burnt! You got old!” and “Walk away” and “Aren’t you as cute as a Chinese baby?” He puts an old black-and-while WB logo at the front of the movie, as if to indicate that he’s taking us back to the WB gangster movies of the 30s, but it doesn’t stick this time as a stylistic choice, it just feels false and clumsy. And not even uber-Mameteer Ricky Jay can get away with a line like: “My motherfucker is so cool, when he sleeps, sheep count HIM.” Come to think of it, I don’t even know what that means.

Maybe it’s because House of Games seems to take place in a kind of hermetically sealed Mamettian fantasy world, but Heist seems to take place in something like our real world, so it seems weird that the actors are all talking like some post-modern 40s tough-guy gangsters.

After seeing The Spanish Prisoner (his second-best movie) I joked to myself that one day, Mamet would write a screenplay that consisted entirely of aphorisms. Heist seems to come close to that.

CHARACTER 1: Waste not, want not.
CHARACTER 2: In’t dat th’ thing.
1: It is.
2: As it was in the beginning.
1: A stitch in time —
2: — is a penny earned.
1: In’t it?
2: We would say that it is.
1: And beauty is but skin deep.
2: Except when it is not.
1: Is dat th’ thing?
2: Dat is th’ thing.
1: Hold ’em or fold ’em, everybody leaves the game.

And so forth.

The script has a number of good ideas in it and plenty of dazzling lines, my favorite of which is “Everybody needs money, that’s why it’s called money,” another non-sequiter which nevertheless resonates.

Mamet the film director sometimes seems to have a certain amount of disdain for the medium he’s directing in. He will occasionally use very old-fashioned, obvious, far-fetched, nonsensical or downright silly plot points, as if to say “Well, the important thing is the drama, whatever gets us from Point A to Point B is good enough. It’s just a movie, after all.”
hit counter html code


13 Responses to “Heist”
  1. toliverchap says:

    Mammet on TV

    Have you seen that new show The Unit on CBS? Mamet is credited as the creator and writer. I haven’t seen it yet and though it is advertised like a spy drama with Mamet behind it maybe it is a good spy drama.

    • Todd says:

      Re: Mammet on TV

      I’d very much like to see that show, but I’m so out of practice watching TV that I don’t know when or where it’s on. I’ll for sure get the DVD when it comes out, though.

      • toliverchap says:

        Re: Mammet on TV

        It looks like it’s on CBS Tuesdays at 10 PM. I guess if it gets enough viewers to get atleast a season produced then it will eventually get a DVD. That’s the tricky thing about TV I guess.

        • dougo says:

          Re: Mammet on TV

          The Unit is very good, Mametian in the spirit of Spartan and Ronin. Plus eventually one of the main characters falls for a con. And Rebecca Pidgeon shows up in the season finale. And everyone always leaves out the word “if” from their sentences.

          Amazingly, it’s popular enough to have been renewed for a second season. The DVD comes out in mid-September.

  2. eronanke says:

    PS- you’re too cool. Just FYI.

    • urbaniak says:

      My motherfucker is so cool when he sleeps sheep count him.

      • eronanke says:

        I swear to god, that line is so ridiculous. But I still liked “Heist”, but not as much as “The Score”.
        That being said, to quote Sam Jackson in his upcoming and greatest work:
        (Speaking to Traffic control): “Are you deaf, motherfucker? I told you! Snakes! On a mother-fucking plane!”

    • Todd says:

      Tell all your friends. A million or so more posts like yours and maybe I can get a directing gig.

  3. greyaenigma says:

    I didn’t even know Chuck Norris did Mamet films.

    Way back when I was in college and helping a friend with his film project, a bunch of us would slip into “Mamet speak”, which mostly consisted of repeating things a lot.

    “I’m going to the store.”
    “You’re going to the store?”
    “I’m going to the store.”

    I think there was something more nuanced to it, but that was a long time ago.

    I should probably watch House of Games again. I should sleep so maybe one day I’ll be choerent, or at least relevant again.

    • Todd says:

      The extra nuance is that you should not have used contractions.

      “I am going to the store.”
      “You are going to the store?”
      “I am going to the store.”
      “Is that the thing?”
      “It is indeed.”
      “Well is that not a kick in the head.”
      “And all that implies.”
      “And you know What Else?”
      “Tell me.”
      “We often pronounce Ordinary Words as if they were spelled with Capital Letters.”
      “That we do.”
      “We do.”
      “We do indeed.”
      “Fucking hell.”

  4. craigjclark says:

    I’d have to say, the best thing that can be said for Heist is it somehow made Rebecca “That’s Mrs. David Mamet to you” Pidgeon seem like less of a space alien than State and Main. She was still completely wrong for her part, but at least she didn’t seem like she was completely wrong for this world.

    The only time I’ve ever even remotely believed one of her performances was in The Winslow Boy.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Just wanted to say that it’s great to read someone who has a thoroughly excellent appreciation of Mamet, most just berate his views or his writing style, but not you. Thanks