Here at Latent Images, we are passionate about leading student discussions on film and media. As part of a new ongoing series, each month we will be highlighting a different selection of favorites from our team of staff writers and contributors. Monthly selections will alternate, varying on different kinds of topics — from actors, to film scores, to noteworthy moments — giving students the space to discuss, recommend, and praise as they please.
This month, staff writers discuss their favorite heist films and some classics of the genre. While what is considered a heist film can be amorphous, these selections all involve criminals planning and executing a robbery or similar crime. From tour de force auteur works to indie favorites, these picks displays the genre’s multifaceted and wide range of filmmaking.
Le Cercle Rouge, 1970, dir. Jean-Pierre Melville, France
One of the esteemed French filmmaker’s masterworks, Le Cercle Rouge is the culmination of Jean-Pierre Melville’s hard-boiled crime films. The film follows a trio of criminals who target a Parisian jewel shop for a robbery: a criminal released from prison for good behavior, Corey (Alain Delon); a prison escapee who evaded his transport by jumping out of a train, Vogel (Gian Maria Volonté); and a former police officer in need of redemption, Jansen (Yves Montand). On their tail is a scrupulous commissaire, Mattei (André Bourvil), who is responsible for Vogel’s escape and is pressured by his bosses to make a fast capture. Despite being a late-career entry for the crime auteur, the film can still create a unique style and experience despite Melville’s earlier accomplishments like Le Samourai or Army of Shadows. Cool tautness is blended with an intricate crime world, resulting in a flurry of tense set pieces and a jaw-dropping heist scene. Le Cercle Rouge is brimming with delicate precision and finesse that it’s easy to rank it among the genre’s most esteemed works and recognize its influence on future classics. – Julian Hart
Heat, 1995, dir. Michael Mann, USA
We watch crime films for reasons more profound than the thrill of aestheticized violence: the justification and satisfaction of our most primitive instinct through internal logic just as primitive: revenge, survival, duty…Michael Mann, despite operating within the limits of Hollywood, has redefined the genre with his lyrical portrayal of violence. Uniting “the two greatest actors of contemporary Hollywood”, Heat is an Exempli Gratia of his distinct voice. The story follows the high-stakes cat-and-mouse game between master criminal Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) and seasoned police lieutenant Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino). Without a doubt, the most defining feature of Heat is lies in its relentless realism, which transcended the film beyond a simple cop-criminal story, and defined generations of heist films that followed; none of its imitators has come close, though, as Heat’s realism is often mistaken as for style, when it is really for the contemplation on the impact of violence. The Violence of Heat – or Mann’s filmography at large – is the Sophoclean prophecy that drives the character and the story forth to misery and demise: as Justine, Vincent’s wife, famously said in the film: “…you live among the remains of dead people…that’s the only thing you’re committed to. The rest is the mess you leave as you pass through.” – Richard Zheng
Reservoir Dogs, 1992, dir. Quentin Tarantino, USA
Tarantino’s directorial debut Reservoir Dogs unravels the story of a failed heist with a nonlinear plot, colorful caricatures, and bitter betrayals, setting up Tarantino’s ruthless and violent nature as a filmmaker. Each character is distinguished by their names as colors; yet their relationships, or lack thereof, are what drive the plot forward. Mr. Pink’s (Steve Buscemi) cautious nature clashes with Mr. White’s (Harvey Kietel) sense of loyalty and care. The sociopathic tendencies of Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) compared to the conniving front Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) embodies helps create a disturbed and tense atmosphere. Coupled in an abandoned warehouse with a rat sanctioned in the group, each color points the blame at one another. Liabilities are stressed further through Orange and White’s alliance, to which the leader of the heist, Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney), heavily discourages. Tarantino’s witty dialogue makes for thrilling exchanges, each layer revealing more about the visage behind the colors each man is brandished in. – Molly Kurpis
Reservoir Dogs is streaming on Netflix.
Bound, 1996, dir. The Wachowski’s, USA
The Wachowski sisters debut feature Bound, a steamy crime thriller, captures the riveting romance between mob-wife Violet (Jennifer Tilly) and ex-con Corky (Gina Gershon) as they try to swindle Violet’s money-laundering husband Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) of two-million dollars. This lesbian love story is more than just a criminal heist for cash. As the new couple works to snatch up the large sum of money, they work to run off with one another in hopes of finding a richer life. The performances of Tilly and Gershon lead to an undeniable chemistry heightened by the intimate choreography done by Susie Bright for the film’s sex scenes. Bound is beautifully bloody, wrapped up in its neo-noir aesthetics, seductively dark colors, and intricate heist plotting. But, what lies central to the films heart is a titillating lesbian relationship that takes time in being authentically genuine- something that wasn’t easy to come by in 1996. The film truly stands the test of time and is a caper well worth the watch. – Julia Cross
Bound is available to watch on Pluto TV.