We're a little behind on our review of The Last Heist, but check it out anyways.
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Cause I'm a liar.
The scenario of a bank heist gone wrong is a relatively common trope, but director Mike Mendez brings The Last Heist to life with both an intriguing twist and a smattering of ethical pontification generally absent from suspenseful action films. Themes of light and shadow, good and evil – even the inevitability of death – are played with here, as a group of genuinely competent criminals set upon a huge robbery which they’ve planned to the letter, only to find that a single unexpected element can ruin the equation.
Said element is the nondescript Bernard (Henry Rollins), who enters the bank mere moments before the cadre of thieves bust in to retrieve the items from his safety deposit box. As the simple robbery job turns into a hostage situation, Bernard proves himself to be a brutally precise serial killer – illuminating the complexities of human nature as he begins to indiscriminately dispatch of guilty and innocent alike, collecting their eyes as his macabre trophies.
Mendez endows his characters with a surprising amount of depth for what little we know about them throughout the film, and although it is not made entirely clear what each of the criminals’ individual motives are, the group of robbers is tied together with both camaraderie and a sense of military precision. A pair of brothers at the center of the narrative have traveled diverging paths after their respective enlistments, one ascending to assistant manager of the bank, the other falling into a life of crime. During anticipatory dialog scenes, the film questions such disparate paths, and muses on the outcome seemingly inherent to both – only for Bernard to reappear in a strange sort of nihilistic middle-finger to either philosophy.
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There is an attempt made toward sympathy for these characters with the arrival of Detective Pascal (Victoria Pratt), whose levelheaded logic and genuine compassion are balanced in an expert performance. Pratt’s character is likeable without resorting to clichés, but while Pascal is competent, she’s also playing against obvious odds. It is, unsurprisingly, Rollins who carries the most effective scenes – coldly calculating, Rollins speaks his cryptic, maniacal lines with solemn composure and a steady, almost gentle regard for his own moral ideology before showering himself in blood, cupping freshly-gouged eyeballs lovingly in his hands.
The split between light and dark – a major theme particularly for Bernard’s character, and for the heist team as they try to convince themselves that they are, in some way, morally superior to him – is capably illustrated in cinematography, particularly in Mendez’s use of color and shadow. There is a particularly gripping fight scene during which the characters are drenched in subterranean red light, arrows of stark white from a flashlight and the flame-bursts of a machine gun firing breaking up the monochromatic shots in surreal punches of contrast like slivers of heaven pulsing through hell. Like much of the action, it gratifies without detracting from the overarching suspense, and at the pit of every action sequence is the yin-and-yang of morality questioned throughout the film.
The Last Heist is a fascinating dive into a tightly-held microcosm; while not completely without its predictabilities, it maintains strong characterization, solid acting, and a desire to question itself. The answers it posits by turns may indeed be contradictory – but that may be precisely its point. It is more intent on asking us to think about its themes than at first may be apparent, and suggests that, while none of us will get out of life alive, there may be just enough reason within the chaos of existence to make it worthwhile just the same, no matter on which side of the light we choose to stand.