“Mamet Speak”

Last night before turning in for bed, I watched the film Heist (2001) , written/directed by David Mamet and starring Gene Hackman and Danny DeVito. Actors Sam Rockwell (who was great in Moon, 2009), Delroy Lindo, and Mamet’s wife Rebecca Pidgeon have strong supporting roles.

Gene Hackman plays a smart robber who has all the tricks figured out, supported by a faithful pair of old friends and thieves. Pidgeon plays his incongruously young wife (they have zero chemistry, by the way) who sometimes helps out with his various heists. DeVito plays the fence who helps Hackman’s character pick out jobs, with Rockwell as his hot-headed nephew who variously bungles things up throughout the film. Things go awry between Hackman and DeVito, and Hackman has to pull a heist within a heist within a heist to get out with his money and life.

The premise seemed sound, but turned out to be utterly unconvincing. I thought this film was incredibly “bad.” Unwatchable to the point of elegance. What had me GLUED to the screen was the “Mamet Speak” rampaging all through the script. “Mamet speak,” that ostensibly witty, sharply crafted street-wise way of speaking that characterizes most of his work…in Glengarry Glenn Ross it was pitch perfect. In Heist, I wanted to hold my hands up over my ears.

Jimmy: How long has he been with that girl?
Pinky: What girl is that?
Jimmy: His wife.
Pinky: How long is a Chinaman’s name?

Most of the time the actors delivered their lines with the emotional intensity of high school students trying to get through their lines. I was floored by how such “good” actors could be so flat, empty, and colorless. It was riveting.

Jimmy: Excuse me. Excuse me, Mr. Bergman asked you a question.
Bobby Blane: Uh-huh.
Jimmy: Excuse me. Excuse me, my, my uncle asked you a question.
Bobby Blane: Hey, fuck your uncle.
Jimmy: Fuck my uncle? You’re the help.
[Blane punches Jimmy in the stomach]
Bobby Blane: I’m the help? Yeah, I’m the help, motherfucker.

Those LINES.  Riff after riff after riff of this stuff. I felt like I was being slapped around the face by a Vulcan with bad carpal tunnel disease. Emotionless, a bit feeble. Whack. Whack. Whack.

I hate this film, but I now love it, too. Strange, strange, strange.

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