Microcosm of a Heist Movie
Oceans 11, actors pretending to be criminals pretending to be cops.
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We all love heist movies. Out of all the movie genres, the heist movie is ridiculously specific. The meta-genres like comedy, action, thriller, romance etc all have their place and are widely packed with all manner of manifestations, but in the world of the sub-genre, the ‘Heist’ is peculiar in many ways: Something is going to be stolen, and it’s going to be done poetically. Give that line to a film producer and see what response you get. It doesn’t sound great. And yet, as we know, they keep on pumping them out. From the early days of ‘Raffles’ (1939) to the exquisite Dog Day Afternoon (a film so captivating many people forget the proceeds of the heist are going to his transsexual lover’s surgery!) to ‘Oceans 11’ remake in 2001, the heist movie has maintained a much loved place in the film lovers heart.
It's all too much for Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon.
The story is usually quite simple, a heist is planned, a heist is committed, the consequences are observed. However this is told, it’s much the same story, even in a movie we could loosely call a heist, like Reservoir Dogs, where the film is largely about the aftermath, the basic three act story still exists, even when the focus changes. And something about it is wonderfully alluring, deliciously appealing. Find me a man who didn’t want to be Robert Redford in The Sting (1973) and I’ll show you a liar!
Redford in The Sting - a time when men were men, and grand-scale con artists.
Without even resorting to that modern communal memory that is Google I can still work the old grey matter and effortlessly name many incredible heist movies that I have loved: Dog Day Afternoon, The Pink Panther, Kelly’s Heroes, The Anderson Tapes, The Sting, Ronin, The Italian Job, Oceans 11, The Thomas Crown Affair, The Taking of Pelham 123, the list goes on…
There’s something beautifully human about the heist. Often we are even provided with a series of unspoken caveats which let us enjoy without prejudice what is essentially a theft. If you’ve ever been robbed, or had anything stolen, you know what an awful thing it is, truly unfair and unjust. The feeling of powerlessness is unbearable. And yet the heist has given us permission, whether it be because they fail to get away as in The Italian Job (1969), because the point was to prove vulnerability rather than to actually steal anything – the amazing twist in How to Steal a Diamond in 5 uneasy lessons (AKA The Hot Rock 1972), or the blagger is blagged such as in the monumental Argentinian heist movie Nine Queens (2000) a must see! Regardless how the caveat to enjoy is presented, the heist movie gives us permission to enjoy some of the more dark and cunning naughtiness of the human condition.
The Italian Job - Iconic criminality.
So why am I telling you this? Well, are we not ourselves engaged in a kind of heisting? Do we not identify our target (the particular lock), plan our attack (selection of tools, method of attack) and then feel the buzz of success (opening the damn thing?)
There’s a lot of the attraction of the heist in what we do. All over the world there are tiny little heists taking place at the end of a hook pick and a tension tool. Like the heist movie we are being a bit naughty but no one suffers. We are transcending security with planning and application; we are developing skills to be able to pick better, faster, slicker. Are we not planning a little heist every time we put a new lock into the vice?
Remember the feeling of the first lock you picked? Remember how it’s still much the same, after all these years, every time you take on a new lock, a new technique, a new tool, or a new set of picks. That feeling when you’re one pin away, and then bang, it’s open! It’s a heist! Lock picking is a microcosm of a heist. I can here the jazzy music when I’m choosing of technique, the choice of pick, rake, pick gun, perhaps? There’s the execution, the working around security, defeating those that would have you fail, using cunning, skill, improvisation, and sometimes, even – luck! Then there’s the celebration, the sharing with others, the video, the photos, the tweets, the lot. I haven’t done it yet, but there might be a future in selling bespoke suits to lock pickers. In fact, yes – it should be a rule, an unsaid law of the lock picking community that you must wear a suit when picking a lock, and a Martini wouldn’t go a miss either.
Reservoir Dogs, suited and booted!
We can’t all drop safes into vats of water and detonate an explosion to trick the lock, we can’t all drive Mini Coopers around the arc of a grand reservoir dam. There’s not always a beautiful lady, or a crate of gold, or both, waiting, at the end of a successful pick. But in our own way, we’re heisting daily, we’re cracking codes, we’re defeating security, we’re transcending a set of limits and looking for more, harder, more difficult limits, other locks to beat.
In short – we are lock pickers, we have our own dark and cunning naughtiness, we’re heisting daily, and we’re damn cool!
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