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We're talking movies today - more specifically, classic caper movies. There's nothing more gratifying than sitting back in a dark theater with a bowl of popcorn (or a pack of Twizzlers marinating in Diet Coke, if you're gastronomically warped like I am) and watching a group of witty criminals band together to pull off a big job. Usually it's against all odds, with some nemesis lurking about, ready to send them to kingdom-come. Perhaps they've come out of retirement to pull it off, or they'll looking for a final score to seal the deal on their up-and-down lives of crime. There will be twist and turns, unexpected obstacles or ridiculous moments of good luck - and hopefully a climax that makes you happy you paid whatever absurd price you spent to get into the theater in the first place.
What are your favorite caper flicks? Here's a quick crack at some of mine, in no particular order.
The Usual Suspects. "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist," says Kevin Spacey's Verbal Kint, the weak, blabber-mouthed con artist who finds himself in a total mess after landing in a jail cell with some of the most talented criminals in New York City. Told mostly in flashback, Verbal recounts the terrible tale about how he and his co-conspirators are forced to commit a drug robbery by one of the scariest arch-criminals ever conceived, Kayser Soze. What's true and what isn't? Who's the real brains behind the crime? Watch the film. And for heaven's sake, don't stop watching it until the credits roll, even if you think the movie is over.
Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Before Guy Ritchie married Madonna and gave us the monstrous Swept Away, he was the darling of British indie cinema because of this low-budget, hi-stakes comedy. A group of young Cockney lads find themselves in a world of hurt after falling into debt with mobster and porn king Hatchet Harry Lonsdale. But they're not the only criminals trying to pull of a job; the film is a bunch of cons hatching plans to rip people off, and it's just a matter of time before they all become entwined in a total mess.
Out of Sight. Forget Oceans 11 (or 12 or 13): if you want to see a stylish George Clooney caper flick, this one's for you. When Steven Soderbergh is on his game, he's really on it, and that's the case here as Clooney and sensitive crime partner Ving Rhames try to pull off one last robbery, all the while tracked by Clooney's love interest, FBI agent Jennifer Lopez. Smart acting, smart dialog, smart soundtrack.
Jackie Brown. While it's hardly Quentin Tarantino's most successful film, it's probably his most mature one, as the flight attendant namesake of the film (Pam Grier) walks a tightrope between working for gun-running bad guy Samuel L. Jackson and cooperating with ATF agent Michael Keaton (who's playing, interestingly enough, the same character he plays in the aforementioned Out of Sight). Will Grier manage to rob Jackson under the watchful eye of Keaton, without either of them figuring it out? And will she find true love with her bail bondsman?
Reservoir Dogs. File this one (along with Michael Mann's Heat, for that matter) under "When Good Heists Go Bad." One of the most nonlinear caper films ever made, you'll never look at the song "Stuck in the Middle with You" the same way again. Not for those who are squeamish when it comes to foul language. Or blood. Or watching Tarantino try to act.
Three Kings. What is it with George Clooney and caper films? This one is a bit of a genre twist, since it's also a war film, taking place during the first Gulf War. Well acted and smartly written, it's an underrated film that should probably be on more people's top caper films lists.
Office Space. Okay, this one may not pop up in many folks' minds as a caper film, but think about it: employees get frustrated, employees try to stick it to The Man, employees try to dig themselves out of a hole when their embezzlement scheme doesn't work out as planned. A classic sendup of workplace culture; let's just say it's got a lot of flair.
The Sting. The granddaddy con job of all time. Sure, it can be slow here and there, and Redford always sounds like he's walking in tap shoes, but that doesn't diminish this film's status as a true classic. Let's just do our best to forget a sequel was ever made.
What about you? What would be on your list?
NPR Internet strategist Andy Carvin, filling in for Barrie and Sarah this week, fancies himself an armchair movie critic when he's not being blown away by his wife's superior film trivia acumen.