The Kill Point, a mini-series which is being shown on Spike TV, and which will probably be rerun quite often, has got to be hands-down one of the best heist stories I’ve ever seen. Just when I was thinking the genre had become predictable, up comes this topical, riveting, heart-wrenching, and - dare I say it? - downright patriotic thriller. And bingo, modern issues have put new life into an old genre.
Not that there was anything so wrong with the old genre. I like heist films and even at their stalest, they’re better than the typical actioner out there. But lately, they had lost a lot of their topical moorings. People were planning super-heists merely to steal a whole bunch of cash. Okay, but not really worthy of my spiritual viewing time.
Heist films are supposed to contain topical issues and cultural references. Remember The Public Enemy, The Roaring Twenties, White Heat, and Little Caesar? These were the movies that created this genre. These established the basics of a truly noble heist film. The bad guys are in serious need of cash but there’s always something else. For some reason they don’t fit in, for some reason life is overwhelming. They are war veterans who have returned home to the evils of civilian life. They have been rejected by society at large. They are slightly mad. Whatever the reason, they just don’t fit in.
Of course some of my favorite heist films aren’t terribly angst-ridden. City of Industry, for instance, is a perfect little gem of the 'revenge after the heist because the untrustworthy henchman has betrayed his brothers in crime' sub-genre. And The Usual Suspects works because, well, it is just so plain odd and moody... and a good surprise ending certainly doesn’t hurt.
But the majority of heist movies had lost their connection to the common man, the poor schlub who was embattled and overwhelmed by life. It was fun to get caught up in the planning, the expectations of what we know “should” happen, the inevitable mess-up when after initial success the short-lived criminal victory falls apart. But with rare exceptions such as Set it Off, there generally wasn’t much of an emotional investment.
Well, imagine my utter uncontainable joy when I saw that John Leguizamo was in this series. This guy always plays scrappers. Intellectual, emotional, fidgety, cool, all in one. The guy can act. He plays Mr Wolf, and he leads his animal-aliased crew of disgruntled former soldiers with such passion and compassion that I actually found myself falling in love with him. The characters are desperate, yeah, but not sordid. And everyone knows that in a really satisfying heist film, the viewer's complicity in the crime becomes problematic because the bad guys are truly not so very bad. They have no desire to kill anyone, for instance. But as we know from other heist films such as Dog Day Afternoon, the best laid plans often fall apart — at the very beginning.