“WHO’S IN THE PERFECT HEIST MOVIE CREW?” is hard to answer quickly because it’s one of those questions that’s actually several questions rolled up into one.
What I mean is, think on it the same as you would if somebody asked you, “Hey, what should I wear tomorrow?” That seems like a regular question and a simple one to answer, right? But it’s only regular and simple assuming you already have several other pieces of information. You have to know what the weather is going to be, for one, because you can’t be like, “You should wear a parka,” and then you find out when you open the door that it’s ninety degrees outside. And you have to know what the day’s activities entail, for two, because you can’t be like, “A bathing suit and some flip-flops will be fine,” and then you get in the car and it turns out you’re headed to a funeral. And you have to know what mostly everyone else is going to be wearing, for three, because then otherwise you might end up in a Bridget Jones’s Diary bunny-costume situation.
If you have all that information, then yes, answering “Hey, what should I wear tomorrow?” is easy. If you don’t, then it becomes way trickier. It’s the same way with the “Who’s in the perfect heist movie crew?” question. You can’t go into it blind. You need to gather some information first. You need to know three things. You need to know:
Where is the thing that you need your crew to steal?Different locations require different tools, and different tools require different skill sets, and different skill sets require different people. The crew in 2017’s Baby Driver, for example, was very lo-fi, because their plans were very lo-fi. Each of their robberies mostly consisted of (a) having some people run into a bank or whatever, (b) waving some guns around, (c) stuffing some money into bags, then (d) running out to the car and hoping that Baby, the driver, could outmaneuver the police during the inevitable chase. They were a Driver-Dependent Crew, if you’d like to put a term on it. But take them and measure them up against the crew in 2010’s Inception. That crew’s robbery plans were far more nuanced and intricate. They weren’t breaking into banks. They were, quite literally, breaking into people’s brains. It was a whole different thing, so they were a whole different thing.
What is it that you need your crew to steal? Are we stealing gold (like in, say, 2003’s The Italian Job)? Are we stealing information (like in, say, 1996’s Mission: Impossible)? Are we stealing diamonds (like in, say, 2007’s Flawless)? Are we stealing a Fabergé egg (like in, say, 2004’s Ocean’s Twelve)? Are we stealing proof of wartime atrocities (like in, say, 2006’s Inside Man)? Are we stealing the necklace right off someone’s neck (like in, say, 2018’s Ocean’s 8)? Are we stealing an entire fucking bank vault (like in, say, 2011’s Fast Five)? Are we stealing money to fund our summer fun dreams (like in, say, 1991’s Point Break)? On and on and on and on. The item being stolen, same as above, dictates what kind of crew you’re going to need.
What is the ultimate objective of your specific crew? This one, unlike the two above, has less to do with the technical side of the actual heist and more to do with your own personal preference. Because do you like heist movies where it becomes clear that everyone is headed for doom? If so, you’re going to need to make sure you include no less than one (but preferably two) characters who can send everything sideways. Do you like heist movies where the characters you’re rooting for are able to escape free and happy and you get to feel good about everything? If so, you’re going to need to make sure you have a leader whose first instinct is not to shoot everything the fuck up as soon as there’s any kind of hiccup. Do you like heist movies where someone in the crew betrays the crew and gets away with it? Heist movies where someone in the crew tries to betray the crew but ends up burning themselves? Heist movies where the crew is inexperienced? Heist movies where the crew is veteran and unflappable? Heist movies where the crew isn’t even really a crew, it’s just one or two people? Heist movies where . . . etc. Same as the first two questions above, the way you want your heist to end will determine whom you choose to be in your heist.
ELEVEN THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN HEIST MOVIES
I am a basic man of simple tastes. As such, these are the answers to the three questions that I asked earlier:
Where is the thing that you need your crew to steal? It’s in a bank vault, of course. There’s just something so appealing, so undeniable, so intoxicating about the idea of robbing a bank. Maybe it’s because we’ve all been inside of one before? Or maybe it’s because we all understand that banks hold money and money is good? Or maybe it’s because we’ve all, at this point, seen enough bank robbery movies to feel like we’d be able to avoid the traps that trip up so many robbers? (Avoid the dye packs! Never go for the vault! Make sure nobody sets off the silent alarms! But also have a plan in place for what to do when someone sets off the silent alarms because they somehow always do that shit! Watch out for the off-duty cop who just so happens to be in the bank depositing a check during the robbery! Don’t accidentally say anyone’s real name! Don’t let any identifying marks or items get revealed!) If I’m planning a heist, it’s happening in a bank. I want to honor that tradition. And if I can be very, very specific here, it’s happening in a Bank of America. Remember in 2016’s Hell or High Water how the brothers were robbing Texas Midlands Bank branches because Texas Midlands Bank was trying to foreclose on the land that their deceased mother had owned? That’s how I’m going to be with my Bank of America robbery, except it’s not because they tried to foreclose on some Serrano family land, it’s because one time I’d overdrawn on my account and didn’t get an email alert from them about it until, like, 4 a.m. the next day, which resulted in me getting hit with three overdraft charges of $35 apiece. I bought lunch at Taco Bell and it cost me less than $7 in real life, but because I’d unknowingly gone into the red in my account it actually ended up costing me almost $42. Nobody on the planet has ever spent $42 at Taco Bell before. Spending $42 at Taco Bell is like spending $300,000,000 at Target.
What is it that you need your crew to steal? Seeing as how we’re setting this heist up in a bank, let’s keep everything tidy and neat: The thing that I need for my crew to steal is money. Real money. Cash money. Literal dollars. Not something money-adjacent (like bearer bonds), and not something that’s worth money but isn’t actual money (like jewelry in a safety-deposit box or something). Only true, for real, no question about it, no tricky loopholes, green paper money.
What is the ultimate objective of your specific crew? While I will freely acknowledge that 2001’s Ocean’s 11 is, in all likelihood, the part-for-part, beat-for-beat, second-for-second, most purely entertaining heist movie of all time, I don’t want a 2001 Ocean’s 11-y kind of heist. I want something a little more rugged. I want one of those heists where you slowly fall in love with each of the characters and then you have to watch several of them get killed during the final robbery; one of those heists where there’s a chase scene but you know that it’s not ending in any way other than with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage to public property and a firefight; one of those heists where the person chasing the robbers is just as astute and formidable (and morally ambiguous) as the robbers themselves; one of those heists where an innocent bystander gets shot; one of those heists where, if someone is able to make it out, you feel good about it, but also you feel a little bit bad about it. So given the answers to the three questions, that means we have six roles to fill in. We need: the Leader; the Nameless Member of the Crew Who You Know for Sure Is Going to Die Because They Didn’t Get Very Many Lines in the Movie Before the Final Heist; the Driver; the Ill-Tempered Muscle; the Member of the Crew Who Tries to Double-Cross Everyone; and the Law Enforcement Officer Chasing the Team.
BEST HEIST MOVIES WITH MARK RUFFALO
Danny Ocean from the aforementioned Ocean’s franchise is cosmically cool, for sure, and also an ace Leader in general. But since we know that our heist is likely going to involve a scenario where a guard has to be killed, Danny isn’t a good a pick here. To that point, none of the Ocean’s people are going to be good for us, really. They can do a lot of impressive robbery things, absolutely, but I can’t talk myself into believing they’d be able to shoot their way out of a tight spot if they needed to. So they’re all out. Except Don Cheadle. He gets to stay. For obvious reasons.
I’m also going to eliminate Dalton Russell from Inside Man (a gifted tactician but, same as Ocean, I just can’t trust that he’d put a bullet in someone so that his team could escape); Terry Leather from The Bank Job (mostly I’m eliminating him because his last name is “Leather,” which is ridiculous); Scott Lang from Ant-Man (Luis is eligible); Jackie Brown from Jackie Brown (I’d like for my leader to have a few more robberies on their résumé); Neil McCauley from Heat (I need someone who’d at least pretend like they were interested in helping me get out alive); Anthony Curtis from Dead Presidents (he’s too short, and, as a five-foot-seven man myself, it hurts to write that as the reason for his dismissal); and Dominick Cobb from Inception (he’s cool, but a little too off center). You know who I want? You know who I’m taking as the Leader of my crew here? Give me Bodhi from 1991’s Point Break. He cares about his team, and he’s guided by a code, but also he clearly has a powerhouse of a presence, and he has no qualms with shooting a person or kidnapping someone’s girlfriend and turning a murdering psycho loose on her whenever the need arises.
BEST LINES IN 2001’S “HEIST”
The Nameless Member of the Crew Who You Know for Sure Is Going to Die
Pick anyone from 2014’s American Heist or 2010’s Takers, two movies that I have passively watched several times and still can’t remember the name of literally one single character from either of them. (I guess it has to be one of Hayden Christensen’s characters by default, given that he’s in both of these.) (He’s got a great face.) (And he looks good in hats.) (I’m not exactly sure how that’s helpful here, but I know that it definitely is.)
Baby from Baby Driver is a talented driver, sure, but still a little too unproven for me. And Ryan Gosling’s Driver from Drive is out because technically it is not a heist movie. You know who I want? I’ll give you two picks here. Give me Letty from The Fast and the Furious series (there’s more on her driving ability in the last chapter of this book), and if you say that she’s not allowable as a pick because all the movies in The Fast and the Furious franchise are a few steps outside of being considered heist movies then first let me say, “Fuck you,” and second let me say, “Then give me Deirdre from 1998’s Ronin, seeing as how she’s responsible for one-half of the single best car chase scene in any heist movie ever.” Other possibles: Handsome Rob from 2003’s The Italian Job and Randall Raines from 2000’s Gone in 60 Seconds. Last place is Tyrone from 2000’s Snatch.
BEST HEIST MOVIE TITLES
The Ill-Tempered Muscle
Separate of the Leader, this is almost always my favorite character in the heist movie. I like how uncontrollable they are, and how they either (a) give in to their impulses entirely and end up fucking up the heist totally, or (b) go riiiiiiiiight up to the edge of giving in to their impulses, then someone talks them back at the last possible second, making for a few extremely tense seconds.
Ostensibly, there are a bunch to choose from here, but really there are only five legit contenders. Fifth place is James “Jem” Coughlin from 2010’s The Town. Fourth place is Waingro from Heat. Third place is Tanner Howard from 2016’s Hell or High Water. Second place is Mr. Blonde from 1992’s Reservoir Dogs. And first place is Cleo from 1996’s Set It Off, which was a monstrous and unforgettable performance in a movie that, even more than twenty years later, still feels alive and vital. She’s the pick here. Cleo is the move.
The Member of the Crew Who Tries to Double-Cross Everyone
An interesting take on this was Ty Hackett in 2009’s Armored. He worked at a security service and several of the guards decided they were going to rob an armored truck for $21 million. They eventually talked him into participating, but after one of the other guards shoots a homeless man who’s a potential witness, Ty backs out, barricading himself inside of the armored car they’ve just stolen. He doesn’t keep the money for himself, and also he was the good guy in the movie, so I’m not sure if he’d even be eligible for this pick or not. Either way, I don’t figure he’s the way to go. You need someone slimier. You need someone slipperier. You need someone charming enough to disarm you in the beginning, but who also has an innate sinister vibe to their essence, so that when they double-cross you, you go, “Oh. Duh. I should’ve seen that coming.” I think I have to go here with Edward Norton, because he has spent a large amount of his movie time being exactly that kind of person. (His two most applicable roles: when he was Steve in The Italian Job, and when he was Jack/Brian in 2001’s The Score.)
THE BEST HEIST MASKS
The Law Enforcement Officer Chasing the Team
Since this is a gnarly crew, I need a gnarly person chasing them. I want someone who’s coming in off the top rope in every scene. I want a guy with a bad beard and some tattoos he regrets and whose personal life is falling apart because his job has turned him into an angry box full of broken glass. I want a guy who looks like he always has liquor on his breath and a knife somewhere on his person. I want a guy who’s willing to get a little illegal during the chase, and who’s got his own team of mercenaries behind him who also aren’t afraid to get a little illegal during the chase. I want a guy who, when he wants to interrogate someone, he sneaks up on him, knocks him out, drags him to a hotel room, then says stuff like, “Do we look like the types who’ll arrest you? Put you in handcuffs, drag you down to the station? We just shoot you. It’s less paperwork.” I need Gerard Butler’s Big Nick O’Brien from 2018’s Den of Thieves. He’s the only one with a shot at chasing down my team. He’s my guy.
And that’s the crew. Bodhi from Point Break as the Leader, Hayden Christensen’s character from Takers as the Nameless Member of the Crew Who You Know for Sure Is Going to Die Because He Didn’t Get Very Many Lines in the Movie Before the Final Heist, Letty from Furious 7 as the Driver, Cleo from Set It Off as the Ill-Tempered Muscle, Edward Norton’s character from The Score as the Member of the Crew Who Tries to Double-Cross Everyone, and Big Nick from Den of Thieves as the Law Enforcement Officer Chasing the Team.
Movies (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano will be released on October 8.