Hei$t, The (1989 TVM)

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Pierce Brosnan stars in a highly entertaining caper!

vt The Heist
US / 97 minutes / color / Chris/Rose, HBO Dir: Stuart Orme Pr: Rick Rosenberg, Bob Christiansen Scr: William Irish Jr, David Fuller, Rick Natkin Story: William Irish Jr Cine: George Tirl Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Tom Skerritt, Wendy Hughes, Noble Willingham, Tom Atkins, Robert Prosky, Stephen Apostolina, Ben Mittleman, Nino Surdo, Shelton Redden, Roger Hewlett, Joseph Carberry, Fats Williams, Art Frankel, Andrew Barnicle, Fred Bailey, Luisa Vargas.

The Heist 1989 - 0 opener

Four years ago, security-firm boss Neil Skinner (Brosnan) was caught reentering the US from Mexico with a small fortune in stolen emeralds that he didn’t know he had. Now he has served his time and is determined to return to San Diego to reclaim his security company and the girl he left behind from the business partner who set him up, Ebbet Berens (Skerritt).

With the unwitting aid of the limo driver, Fred (Bailey, in a wryly amusing cameo role), who picked him up at the airport in the innocent belief he was business exec Mark Draper (Barnicle), Neil discovers that his company has been stolen from him by Berens—what used to be SB Security is now just B Security—and likewise his hot girl, Sheila Atkins (Hughes), now installed in Neil’s place as co-owner of the firm.

The Heist 1989 - 1 Neil returns (with limo driver Fred) to (S)B Security

Neil (Pierce Brosnan) returns with limo driver Fred (Fred Bailey) to (S)B Security.

Neil has suspected as much. Just before his release from prison a gangleader called Kelso (Carberry) and his goons attempted to “punch his ticket,” having been paid by someone on the outside to do so for the princely fee of four cartons of Kools and a CD player. Neil takes pleasure in publicly returning to Berens his four cartons of Kools.

B Security’s biggest contract is keeping safe the money of local racetrack Ocean Downs, and Neil makes it clear to Berens and Sheila from the outset that a big part of his revenge is going to be to execute a heist of the track’s weekly takings, worth millions.

Again very much in the open, he recruits a sort of Gang of Losers from the aging B Security employees there: compulsive gambler Delaware Dancer (Prosky), failed jockey Ramirez (Apostolina) and decrepit security guard Stuckey (Willingham)—whose young and stupid boss Durfee (Hewlett) habitually refers to him as a useless old fart—plus Neil’s old prison mate Cave (Redden). If the heist’s going to succeed it’s going to do so almost despite Neil’s co-conspirators.

The Heist 1989 - 2 Neil and Dancer meet again

Neil (Pierce Brosnan) and Dancer (Robert Prosky) meet again after all these years.

The Heist 1989 - 3 Failed jockey Ramirez and a friend

Failed jockey Ramirez (Stephen Apostolina) and a friend.

Stuckey and Dancer make clear to Neil just how far over the hill they’ve traveled in his absence. “I ain’t gettin’ laid as often but it’s lastin’ longer,” Stuckey reassures him, while there’s also this exchange:

Dancer: “Well, welcome back to the real world—it sucks. And I’m the livin’ proof. I’ve got a bad back, athletes’ foot, liver like a panda, boils, bunions . . .
Neil: “Anything else?”
Dancer: “Yeah. Nixon’s still alive.”

The Heist 1989 - 4 Sheila

Wendy Hughes as Sheila.

The status of Sheila is a lot more ambiguous. Unless she’s faking it, she still feels the same heat that she did back in the day when she and Neil were an item. Yet she seems to have no compunction in reporting to Berens the details of the plot that Neil is hatching. It’s not until late in the movie that we can work out where Sheila’s loyalties lie, and only in the final moments can we be sure. She also hints more than once that really she should escape from both of them because they’re competing not so much over her but each other:

Sheila: “And I don’t trust you [Ebbet] either, so I’m going to go and take the money and get out of both your lives. I only got in the way between you two, didn’t I?”

The Heist 1989 - 5 Berens assumes Sheila is his girl

Berens (Tom Skerritt) assumes Sheila (Wendy Hughes) is his girl.

The screenplay quite happily dabbles in cliché in places—there’s nothing wrong with cliché, after all, so long as it’s handled well. Berens repeatedly sets his two goons, one short (Surdo) and one tall, Morgenthal (Mittleman), to the task of intimidating Neil, and naturally the ploy works as well as if he’d set Laurel and Hardy to do the task. Dancer, like Rick Deckard’s nemesis in BLADE RUNNER (1982), has the habit of creating fancy-dandy little origami constructs and leaving them lying around.

The Heist 1989 - 7 Some of Dancer's origami pieces

 Some of Dancer’s origami pieces.

The merry genre-referentiality of the screenplay is extended even to Arthur B. Rubinstein’s score, which more than once gives us echoes of the Bond theme—Brosnan of course played the character in GoldenEye (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), The World is not Enough (1999) and Die Another Day (2002).

Tirl’s cinematography is often very fine—glance at some of the screengrabs for evidence of this claim—but at the same time it’s occasionally obvious that time/money didn’t allow him to take that necessary extra shot. A prime example occurs when we—and Neil—are first introduced to Ramirez. Time and time again when we should be looking at Ramirez’s face we’re instead looking at the side of a horse’s head.

The Heist 1989 - 8 Dumb goon Morgenthal

Ben Mittleman as the dumb goon Morgenthal.

Had The Heist been given a theatrical release I have little doubt that it would be frequently listed as a good but minor example of early neonoir. Instead, like its near-contemporary GOTHAM (1988 TVM)—although emphatically not like another TVM neonoir, The LAST SEDUCTION (1994)—The Heist, however humble its intentions, has tended to be forgotten. That’s a pity.

And it’s very funny in places. We tend to forget, too, how clever a comic actor Brosnan can be.

The Heist 1989 - closer

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On Amazon.com: The Heist (1989)

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14 thoughts on “Hei$t, The (1989 TVM)

  1. Oh, this sounds like fun – a decent midweek movie. I’ll keep an eye out for it. Your post also reminds me that I ought to revisit The Last Seduction – it’s been such a long time since I last watched it.

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