The Maiden Heist

The Maiden HeistI’m a sucker for a good heist or break-in movie.  From Ocean’s 11 to The Score to Mission: Impossible to The Great Train Robbery, it’s always fun to watch a band of robbers break into a secure vault and make off with a pile of loot.  Since break-in films generally follow the same structure (introduce characters, reveal impenetrable vault, set the stakes high, establish urgency, encounter conflict before reaching the goal, and either get caught or get away), what makes a good break-in movie are compelling characters and an interesting setup.  The stakes don’t even necessarily need to be all that high, as long as the characters are interesting and the conflicts are engaging.  And that’s exactly what The Maiden Heist is:  a stripped-to-the-bone heist flick with neither flair nor style, but exuding charm and class in every frame.  Sort of like a geriatric version of The Thomas Crowne Affair, the movie revolves around three museum workers who conspire to steal three pieces of artwork rather than let them be shipped off to Denmark.

Christopher Walken hams it up as Roger Barlow, a security guard enamored of a painting called “The Lonely Maiden” and vows to save it from being shuttle off to a foreign country where, he is certain, no one will appreciate it like he does.  He soon teams up Charles Peterson (Morgan Freeman, playing the part with a wink and a smile) and George McLendon (William H. Macy, doing his best William H. Macy impression) who also want to save another painting and a statue.  The three of them hatch a not-very-elaborate scheme to steal the pieces of artwork on moving day, and even though the ending is a foregone conclusion it’s a lot of fun getting there.

The Maiden Heist: Morgan Freeman, William H. Macy

Freeman and Macy, conniving over cotton candy.

Macy practically steals the show as a possible army veteran who may or may not have been involved in several military conflicts, but has clearly seized the opportunity to play out his version of a James Bond fantasy with the theft of the artworks.  His flamboyance and eccentricities are matched perfectly by Walken, who could hold audience enraptured by simply reading a nursery rhyme.  Thrown into the mix is Walken’s overprotective wife Rose (Marcia Gay Harden) whom Charles has convinced he is taking on a long-overdue vacation to Florida.

As the old Chinese proverb states, the journey is the reward, and that certainly holds true with The Maiden Heist.  The fun of the movie isn’t in wondering what will happen or if the triumvirate will succeed, but in watching it all unfold.  Walken, Freeman, and Macy are clearly too old for sneaking around, rappelling down walls, and that sort of thing, but someone obviously forgot to tell them.  They have such a blast playing not-quite-inept thieves that it’s hard to not enjoy it with them, and Harden’s hysterics only add to the mix.

This is not a film to be taken seriously, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half.  It could never hold its own against more technically accomplished and meticulously planned Hollywood counterparts, but then, that’s not really the point.  If you’re interested in a fun little heist flick, or have any appreciation for these three fantastic leading actors, The Maiden Heist deserves a rental.


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I’m not the best person to review a movie like Duplicity.  There are some individuals who have no problem with zero exposition, flashbacks all over the place, and characters with convoluted backstories that are never really explained.  Those same individuals might praise a movie like Duplicity for being high-minded, or deep and thoughtful, or off the beaten path, or cerebral, or any number of other such adjectives.



I’m not one of those people.

It’s not that I can’t appreciate Duplicity.  I would, if I could understand what in the world was going on.

This tale of backstabbing, double-crossing, and corporate espionage probably sounded great on paper.  It pairs one of the most universally appealing actresses of our time, Julia Roberts, with a somewhat lesser-known but equally solid Clive Owen.  It is directed by Tony Gilroy, who helmed Michael Clayton, the fairly well-executed tale of corporate corruption.  It’s also got one of the hottest go-to actors today, Paul Giamatti.  But somewhere along the line things went off track and the movie ends up being more of a convoluted mess than a thinking man’s Ocean’s 11, which is what it was clearly striving for.

As the movie opens, Clive Owen’s character Ray Koval bumps into Claire Stenwick, played by Roberts, at a party in Dubai.  The two strangers exchange a series of witty quips before promptly hopping into bed (this is Hollywood, after all.  *sigh*) and the next morning Koval wakes up and Stenwick is nowhere to be found.  Turns out the Stenwick is an ex-CIA agent, and Koval is an ex-MI6 operative, and both are just trying to make a buck by conning corporations into unwittingly giving up secret formulas, recipes, product plans, and the like.  Has she been playing Koval, using him to get access to MI6 information?  Did Koval know she was CIA and was he using her the whole time?  Don’t worry, the answers to such questions will only kind of be revealed after many jumps both forward and backward in time, and at the end of the movie the viewer will still be trying to figure out what in the world was going on the whole time.

Seriously, go find Richard Gere and make Runaway Bride 2 before its too late.

Seriously, Julia, go find Richard Gere and make Runaway Bride 2 before it's too late.

The basic gist of the movie is such:  Koval and Stenwick, in a post-cold-war era, have turned to corporate espionage as a way to use their considerable talents of sneakery and deception.  The trick is, though, can two people for whom a mindset of deception is so deeply ingrained, have a normal relationship?  It’s an interesting question, really, but the answer is mired under so many convoluted layers, plots, and subplots, that no satisfying answer is ever really given.  Throughout the movie we see the two of executing, along with a Mission Impossible-type of supporting team, the theft of a secret formula to cure baldness from a pharmaceutical company.

Yes, some heist movies are about money, others are about jewels, and others about artifacts.  This one is about a secret formula to cure baldness.  But it could have been worse:  had they not gone for the baldness cure at the company Stenwick was infiltrating, they would have gone for (wait for it…) the recipe, at the company Koval was busy infiltrating, for a hawaiian-style frozen pizza.

After finishing with Duplicity, and reading over a plot synopsis and asking my wife to give me her take on what it was all about, I suppose I can appreciate the filmmaking a little more.  But with the myriad plot twists, double-crosses, and unresolved conflicts, I just don’t think it makes for  a very entertaining or interesting movie.

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