The best heist film no one has ever heard of.
Sneakers (1992) is directed by Phil Alden Robinson and stars Robert Redford as security pro Martin Bishop, who gets paid to break into banks to test their security. But after a pair of shady individuals appear at his doorstep, he gets dragged into stealing a mysterious device somehow connected to his past.
Yeah, ok, the plot isn’t particularly original. Particularly reading through that synopsis, a bunch of clichés already jump out – mysterious past, secret macguffin, and a number of others I can’t elaborate on without spoiling the movie. But while the plot isn’t original, the execution of the heists is. Unlike Ocean’s Eleven or The Italian Job, the film plays out the set up for the heist by going through the plan, showing the surveillance, and basically all the tasks that other caper’s skip over. And it does it all with a wry sense of fun and wit, which keeps everything from buying wire to testing motion sensors really interesting. Bishop and his team are all professionals, and simply watching them planning a heist, getting the gear together, then executing it is just cool. And helps it make Sneakers feel far more unique than its plot would have you believe.
Speaking of the team, that’s another highlight of the film. Redford is as watchable as ever as Bishop, and is genuinely funny at times, showcasing his talent for comedic timing. The rest of the team is also equally endearing. They’re all distinct, likeable and entertaining in their own right, and keeping it down to four over, say, eleven (looking at you Oceans) keeps it easy to remember who is who and who does what. The only weak link is Sir Ben Kingsley as the mysterious villain of the piece. He simply doesn’t seem invested in the film – his expressions vary from a small smile to a small frown, and he constantly fails to sell the emotional impact his character should have. A shame, but considering his minimal screen time not a huge problem.
Sneakers also tries for a light-hearted almost tongue-in-cheek tone that toes the lines between tense, funny and dramatic like an experienced tightrope walker. The film just so often feels fun and so entertaining to watch – its not taking itself too seriously, but its still not slapstick enough not to have dramatic weight. Not to mention that there are a couple of incredible gags that had me gasping for air at the least expected times. There are a few scenes that get a little too silly, but for the most part the tone is perfectly stable.
The best way to sell Sneakers is that its Oceans Eleven without the glamour, a smaller cast, and much more comedy. Oh, and better. Definitely better. Its a shame that so few people know about this movie, because its quite possibly one of the most entertaining and best heist films I have ever seen. Sure, its got a standard plot, but everything around it is so good that I’m more than happy to forgive and forget. Hunt this movie down and you will not be disappointed.
General Audiences: Must-see
Film Buffs: Recommended