5 great bank robbery movies

Updated: 2011-08-12 09:53


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5 great bank robbery movies

A photograph shows actors Jodie Foster and Denzel Washington in a scene from film "Inside Man."[Photo/Agencies]

LOS ANGELES - "30 Minutes or Less" follows the allegedly comic misadventures of a slacker pizza delivery guy (Jesse Eisenberg) who's forced to rob a bank by a couple of idiots (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) who strap a bomb to his body. The payoff would have something to do with opening a tanning salon that's a front for a brothel. It is not great cinema.

But it does provide us with an opportunity to ponder some great movies about bank robberies, and there are a lot of them. So many, in fact, that we had to focus on movies that were specifically about bank robbers or robberies. Merely featuring a great heist isn't enough to qualify. (Sorry, "The Dark Knight.")

We managed to narrow it down to five. Count 'em:

— "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975): One of Sidney Lumet's best, it has become the definitive bank robbery movie. I mentioned to a fellow critic that I was compiling this list, and his response was: "Begins and ends with 'Dog Day,' right?" Pretty much. Al Pacino is charismatic and intense as Sonny, who needs the money for his lover's sex change. He's constantly surprising in his interactions with tellers and guards — he actually seems to care about them — and this remains one of the finest performances in Pacino's lengthy career. Lumet's film is as suspenseful as it is full of humor and humanity. And the way the crime plays out on live television, making instant stars of bit players, is just as relevant as ever.

— "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967): Arthur Penn's classic film helped make the names Bonnie and Clyde synonymous with a romantic, brazen life of crime. Lively and funny, thrilling and realistically violent, it starred an impeccably fashionable Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty as a mythologized version of the real-life bank-robbing couple. Although it took place during the Depression, "Bonnie and Clyde" resonated with the counter-culture during the era it was released for glorifying its rebels. And the kind of shameless theatricality that made them famous all those decades ago most certainly lives on today in the pseudo-celebrities we unfortunately revere. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, it won two, for supporting actress Estelle Parsons as Clyde's sister-in-law and for its cinematography.

— "Heat" (1995): All the best of Michael Mann is on display in this nearly-three-hour crime saga: both the stylized visuals and the visceral violence. It explores the gray area where good guys and bad guys defy easy categorization, and they have more in common with each other than they'd like to admit. This is Mann's modern-day Western. Pacino is on the other side of the law this time as a Los Angeles police detective whose dedication to his career has decimated his personal life. He's after Robert De Niro, a veteran criminal mastermind with dreams of retiring to New Zealand. The coolly precise bank robbery that De Niro, Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore pull off at the film's halfway point gives way to an epic, messy shootout in the heart of downtown.

— "Inside Man" (2006): Glossy and gleefully mainstream, this is probably the least Spike Lee-ish Spike Lee Joint ever. This well-acted action thriller about a meticulous robbery at a lower Manhattan bank is suspenseful but never takes itself too seriously, thanks to a darkly funny undercurrent. Denzel Washington stars as the longtime NYPD detective who's called in to negotiate when a band of thieves bursts into a bank and takes about 50 customers and employees hostage. Clive Owen, who can make any bad guy sexy, plays their smooth, arrogant leader. Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Willem Dafoe are among the strong supporting cast.

— "Point Break" (1991): Long before Kathryn Bigelow won Oscars for best picture and best director for "The Hurt Locker," she was the rare woman in this business making brawny action pictures. This is one of her most enjoyable ones, and not just as a guilty pleasure (although it did make my list of guilty-pleasure movies last year). Keanu Reeves stars as the awesomely named Johnny Utah, an FBI agent who goes undercover to catch a band of bank robbers who commit their crimes wearing masks of U.S. presidents. Led by Patrick Swayze as the shaggy-haired Bodhi, these guys are surfers enjoying a bohemian lifestyle that Utah finds increasingly difficult to resist. His line as he lets Bodhi surf off into some deadly waves — "Vaya con Dios" — is a classic.


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