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Heist film


Heist film

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A heist film is a movie that has an intricate plot woven around a group of people trying to steal something. Comic versions are often called caper movies. They could be described as the analogues of caper stories in film history. Typically there are many plot twists, and film focuses on the characters' attempts to formulate a plan, carry it out, and escape with the goods. There is often a nemesis that must be thwarted, who is either a figure of authority, or a former partner who turned on the group or one of its members.



The noun caper, according to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary means a frolicsome leap, a capricious escapade or an illegal or questionable act.

The archetypal plot

Usually a heist film will contain a three act plot. The first act usually consists of the preparations for the heist: gathering conspirators, learning about the layout of the location to be robbed, learning about the alarm system, revealing innovative technologies to be used, and most importantly: setting up the plot twists in the final act.

The second act is the heist itself. With rare exception, the heist will be successful, though some number of unexpected events will occur.

The third act is the unravelling of the plot. The characters involved in the heist will be turned against one another, or one of the characters will have made arrangements with some outside party, who will interfere. Normally most or all of the characters involved in the heist will end up dead, captured by the law, or without any of the loot.

Variations on the plot

As an established archetype it became common, starting in the fifties, to excise one or two of the acts in the story, relying on the viewers' familiarity with the archetype to fill in the missing elements. Touchez pas au grisbi and Reservoir Dogs, for example, both take place entirely after the heist has occurred.

Some heist films take place non-linearly: The Killing, Reservoir Dogs.

Related film archetypes

The "heist film" is the most well-known of a number of closely related archetypal storylines. All involving collaborative efforts that require elaborate preparation and dramatic fallout, there is also: the prison-break film, the assassination film, and the hostage film (usually shown from the opposite perspective: that of the hostages and the rescuers). A number of spy films also have heist-like plots.

Additionally, it is common for films to have sections that are modelled after the heist film archetype. National Treasure, etc.


From the origins...

A "caper movie" generally shows the ingenious planning and realization of a heist. Even though it has come to be regarded as a classic American genre, in Europe it is Jules Dassin's Du rififi chez les hommes of 1955 that served as the founding father of this particular type of film.

 "Du rififi chez les hommes", 1955, DVD cover featuring Jean Servais "Du rififi chez les hommes", 1955, DVD cover featuring Jean Servais

... until today

The classical Film noir period of the 40s and 50s brought the genre to fame: during these decades, several such gangster's films have been shot that to this day remain second to none. John Huston's Asphalt Jungle of 1950 or Stanley Kubrick's The Killing of 1956 are examples. The sombre atmosphere of the unavoidable failure which occurs during the film and which should become a sort of brand name for Film noir intertwines in these films with the viewers delight in watching the unfolding of a near-perfect crime.

Since that time Big caper movies have been shot in many variations, often introducing innovative ways of craftsmanship, such as Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. Even to contemporary Hollywood, the genre still remains promising, as the 2001 and 2003 remakes of Ocean's Eleven and The Italian Job show.

Notable examples

Some heist films include:

The Asphalt Jungle
Bob the Gambler
Le Cercle rouge
Bottle Rocket
Criss Cross
Grand Slam
The Great Train Robbery
Touchez pas au grisbi
How to Steal a Million
The Italian Job
The Killing
The Usual Suspects
Jackie Brown
The Killing
The Lavender Hill Mob
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Matchstick Men (film)
The League of Gentlemen
Ocean's Eleven 1960, remade in 2001
Ocean's Twelve
The Pink Panther
The Asphalt Jungle
Rough Cut
The Score
The Sting
The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), 1999 remake

External links

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Movies, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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