Streaming spotlight - it's a steal

This week we're looking at cinematic heists

by Amber Wilkinson

Al Pacino as Sonny Wortzik in Dog Day Afternoon
Al Pacino as Sonny Wortzik in Dog Day Afternoon
We've taken our inspiration for our streaming spotlight this week from the Great Train Robbery, which happened 57 years ago last week. Cinema has always loved a good heist, from bungled bank raids to cocky criminals and suave masterminds who manage to pull off one last job. Here we round-up some of our favourites.

Dog Day Afternoon, Amazon, from £3.49

Ask most people to name a bank heist film and this one will probably come somewhere near the top of the list. Al Pacino's Sonny Wortzik sweats his way through a long afternoon in Sidney Lumet's based-on-real-life thriller about a robbery gone sour. When Wortzik and his crew turn up at the bank, things go wrong from the start, with one man bailing before it's begun. Soon, the place is surrounded by police and Wortzig is stuck inside with his twitchy accomplice Sal (John Cazale) and a bunch of hostages he relates to far too much for his own good. Director Sidney Lumet had already shown he was a master of claustrophobia and character with 12 Angry Men almost two decades earlier and this film came in the middle of a purple patch for him that also included Murder On The Orient Express and Network - although is the superior of the three. The film is also interesting for the period in that Wortzik is bisexual - he's robbing the bank to get cash for his trans partner's transition surgery - but a long way from the usual stereotype seen on film at the time. Those interested in the true story of the real "Sonny" - John Wojtowicz - should look out for documentary The Dog, which lets Wojtowicz take centrestage to tell his story, and is all the more compelling for that.

American Animals, Amazon Prime

Director Bart Layton goes one step further than the usual 'based on a true story' routine for his second feature, which proves to be one of the most interesting documentary/fiction hybrids of recent years. It also offers one of the more unusual cinematic settings for a heist - a college library. Warren Lipka (Evan Peters), Chas Allen (Blake Jenner), Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan) and Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson) were the men with the plan - and Layton dovetails interviews with the real-life perpetrators with his re-enactment of the crime. What starts as a thrill ride becomes a much more interesting examination of toxic masculinity and the nature of memory that doesn't let anyone off the hook. Read our interview with Bart Layton.

Inside Man, Netflix

Jennie Kermode writes: There are heist films about action and heist films about emotion, and then there are heist films set out as puzzles. Spike Lee uses elements of the first two to present the finest example of the latter yet made. We enter it after the bank vault has been breached, after the hostages have been released, yet nobody seems able to discover who the perpetrators were - nor quite what it was that they took. Most of the story plays out in flashback en route to a beautifully realised final twist. Lee dazzles the eye like a master magician so that even after you've watched the film several times you'll find it hard to catch everything, but it's all there, immaculately worked out, not just in terms of what happens inside the bank but also the complex interactions taking place on the outside. Most importantly, he makes room for character development within all this. Both on superb form, Denzel Washington and Clive Owen create one of those detective/master criminal conflicts that ultimately brings them closer to each other than to anyone else.

The Captor, Amazon

Jennie Kermode writes:A lot of nonsense is routinely spouted about Stockholm Syndrome - the idea that hostages are emotionally drawn to their captors - not least by film critics, despite it carrying little weight amongst psychologists today. In taking on the story of the original incident that inspired it, Robert Budreau highlights the silliness of the idea by looking at the way bank staff held prisoner in the aftermath of a heist reacted to authorities whose efforts to end the siege didn't seem to place much value on their lives. This realism by no means detracts from the drama or the comedy in what was an absurd situation. Ethan Hawke, then still in the early stages of the screen career revival that has seen him attract major awards interest, plays music-loving would-be cowboy Lars, who gradually becomes close to Noomi Rapace's frightened bank clerk Bianca during the lengthy ordeal, making some members of his gang suspicious. Their nuanced performances mean we never lose sight of the human factor no matter how bizarre their circumstances become.

The Italian Job, Amazon, £3.99

Some heists are played for thrills, others put an emphasis on laughs and Peter Collinson's 1969 gemis likely to steal your heart with its balance of the two. Michael "I only told you to blow the bloody doors off" Caine is on top form as cheeky charmer Charlie Croker, who is planning a gold heist in Turin. You might come for Caine's stylish patter but you'll want to stick around for the masterful Mini Cooper car chase through the narrow Italian streets, not to mention down flights of stairs - and don't forget the wonderful Noel Coward, as a jailed Mr Big, in what would be his final role. The Job's a good one.

Widows, Now TV, Amazon, from £7.99

Steve McQueen transports Lynda La Plante's Eighties TV hit about women who decide to pull off their dead husband's heist, from Britain to Chicago. The result is a gritty thriller that underpins its genre elements with plenty of commentary on race, class and misogyny. McQueen balances the film's heist element with character driven narrative concerning the way the women - and, indeed, most of the city - are trapped by circumstance, asking whether they can change sufficiently to beat the odds. The emotional heft of the film is brought home by the water-tight cast, including Viola Davis and Elizabeth Debicki, though it's Cynthia Ervio's physical and intense performance that proves to be the highlight.

Hell Or High Water, Amazon, from £2.49

Heist meets western in David Mackenzie's Texan take on the genre that sees brothers, ex-con Tanner and Toby Howard (Ben Foster and Christ Pine) robbing banks to save their family farm. Writer Taylor Sheridan knows how to stitch a story fully into a place - with Wind River and Sicario also great examples - and here he bakes his tale of brothers against the bank, or perhaps the American Dream, into the sun-cracked earth of the Republican state. As the brothers continue their spree, a close-to-retirement sheriff (Jeff Bridges, at his laidback best) is hot on their trail. The showdowns are suitably showy but it's the well-crafted characters, right down to the diner waitresses, that make this memorable.

We're returning to a bungled bank job for our short recommendation this week, Incident By A Bank, a short packed with charm and comedy, made by Ruben Östlund before he went on to find international fame with The Square and Force Majeure.

INCIDENT BY A BANK from New Europe Film Sales on Vimeo.

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