The Maiden Heist

Director: Peter Hewitt  
Morgan Freeman, Christopher Walken, William H. Macy

Although I have a web site and chances are that you do not, let me assure you that in many different ways I am just like you. I am employed at a job, and I do various chores on a regular basis to maintain my lifestyle. And like you, I have hopes and dreams. Though my hopes and dreams are probably different than yours. When it comes to hopes, my hope is that Telefilm Canada will eventually have its budget slashed so much that they have to close, meaning all those Canadian directors who make boring snoozefests will have to develop real movies, since they would have to attract private investment. And when it comes to dreams, I have two dreams that stand out more than others, and those dreams are fame and fortune. Come to think about it, I am happy with the amount of fame I have from this web site - if I had the fame of a Hollywood celebrity, I'd go nuts from the lack of privacy. Wishing for fortune, on the other hand, seems okay at first. I think we would all agree that there is nothing wrong with having too much money. I certainly wish I would suddenly have a lot of cash at hand. On the other hand, all the years of watching B movies has taught me that the delivery of fortune on someone previously lacking it brings in a whole bunch of risks. Movies like the Scott Glenn starring Night Of The Running Man and the Sean Bean starring Ca$h (which I may review one day in the future) have taught me that on the occasions that you stumble upon a lone suitcase full of cash, chances are that suitcase and the cash belong to the mafia, and they will do far more than just break fingers to get every dollar back.

Even in cases when finding a lost fortune that does not involve the mafia, I'd be out of luck. If I found cash that had dropped out of an armored car, or my bank had accidentally deposited a fortune in my account, I know what I would do - I would report either incident to the right authorities. That's because of two reasons. The first being that people in real life who have tried to take advantage of their newly arrived fortune always seem to be caught. The second reason is my parents raised me with values, darn it! Those values also explain why I would never engage in a major heist of some kind, but there's another reason why I wouldn't engage in such an activity, and it's something I've also learned from B movies. In some ways I am a lazy person who doesn't welcome stress, and getting involved in a heist in B movies always seems like a lot of hard work that comes with many problems. First, you have to figure out what you want to steal. Okay, that part is pretty easy, but look at what comes next. Next, you have to choose people that will participate in your heist. How can you be sure any potential partner will not crack under the strain or stab you in the back somewhere down the road? But let's say you find some good people, what then? Well, there is the planning stage as well as buying all the equipment you'll need to use to execute the heist. When it comes to buying equipment, I sometimes wonder where the robbers in B movies manage to buy all their tools. And they seem expensive, making me wonder sometimes if the tools cost more than the item they plan to steal. As for the planning stage, B movies have taught me that no matter how much you plan, something unexpected comes up during the actual robbery. The robbers in these films always seem to be able to overcome the unexpected obstacle, but I don't trust that I would be that cool and collected to do so.

So it looks like my dreams of having a fortune will remain just dreams. But that's okay with me - I can spend my leisure time watching B movies concerning people involved with various robbery capers and succeeding at them. Maybe now you can understand why I was attracted to The Maiden Heist when I found a copy, but there was another reason the movie intrigued me. It was because The Maiden Heistat the time of its release, one of its stars (Morgan Freeman, who also acted as one of the movie's executive producers) was starting to appear in heist movies that went straight to video. In the same year when this movie went straight to video, Freeman appeared in the straight to video caper movie The Code with Antonio Banderas. Actually, The Maiden Heist was originally set for a theatrical release, but its distributor had severe financial problems, so the movie went straight to DVD. I often like watching movies that were intended for theaters but went straight to video because it gets me wondering (among other things) how well these movies would have done with major backing behind them. The events of The Maiden Heist take place in Boston, Massachusetts. At a local art museum are three security guards, Charles (Freeman, Unforgiven), Roger (Walken, True Romance), and George (Macy, Fargo). All of them have worked for the museum for years, long enough for each of them to have become attached to a particular piece of art on display. In fact, each of them would consider the particular piece of art they like to be "theirs", having observed and appreciated all three pieces of art for so long. So when one day, when the museum announces that they are shipping much of the museum's collection to Denmark, the three men are extremely upset with the news that their beloved artworks will be going away. But not long after their initial complaining amongst themselves, an idea gets into all three men's heads: Why not plan a scheme so that all three of them steal the three pieces of art, replacing them with forgeries so that no one in authority will know they have been robbed? The potential danger is obvious, but they ultimately decide to put their plan to work. Of course, during the men's planning and ultimate execution of their final plans, they discover that it going to be a lot harder than they thought - and they just might be caught by something even their careful planning did not figure on happening.

There are a number of caper movies where we are almost instantly (or even right away) on the side of the criminals. Usually this is done by having the robbery being necessary because lives are on the line, or the person owning the item or items that are to be robbed is a real bastard and needs to be punished. However, in the case of The Maiden Heist, the movie had somewhat of a challenge to make Charles, Roger, and George characters that we could like and sympathize with. As you no doubt saw from the plot description in the previous paragraph, the motives for these three characters robbing the art museum are essentially pretty selfish ones. Fortunately, the movie does make the effort so that we in the audience will be on the side of the three men. The movie repeatedly shows that the men have grown to love the artworks they have been guarding for so many years. In one scene, Roger gently corrects a museum guide who tells the wrong facts about Roger's beloved painting to a group of tourists. And George likes a bronze sculpture of a nude in the museum so much that he is perfectly willing to pose nude himself in front of a sculptor so he can get a perfect reproduction of the art piece. There are a number of moments like these, so much so that later, when the three characters are lamenting the moving of the art works and discussing the possibility of getting their hands on the art, you will be on their side. One of the men says at one point, "I mean... you stand there [in the museum] day after day, year after year, and..." Although he doesn't finish what he was trying to say, I completely understood what was going through his head and his two fellow guards. You will be on these men's side even before they start brainstorming about robbing the museum, and you'll want them to succeed.

The Maiden Heist is not only different from many other caper movies with the motives of the criminals planning and executing the caper. Unlike a lot of other caper movies, the movie has a number of light-hearted moments, enough so that I think it's pretty safe to brand the movie as a comedy. There are some amusing sight gags in the movie, such as with George loving his sculpture so much that he also likes to take off his clothes during his nightly museum rounds so he can strike poses next to the statue. There are also some chuckles with the character of Rose (played by Marcia Gay Harden of Pollock), who is married to Roger. She is kind of a fussy character who has a long-standing dream of vacationing with Roger in Florida. The movie comes dangerously close to making her a kind of character who is an annoying shrew. But the movie has heart even when she makes us laugh. We see things from her side - she does love her husband a lot, and wants the best for both of them. The laughs we get from her are from seeing part of ourselves in her - sometimes we don't have an easy time with even the loved ones in our lives. (Roger is at a couple of points frustrated with Rose, but it's made clear he still loves her.) In fact, much of the rest of the humor of the movie comes from the fact that all three men are not super-smart or super-resourceful men - just like us. During the planning of the robbery, unexpected things come up that they have to deal with. Needless to say, during the actual robbery, more unexpected things come up. They have to struggle right on the spot to overcome the new challenges, and the solutions they come up with are not that far removed from what we might have done in the same situations. Often what they have to do is amusing to us outside observers, because, as I indicated earlier, we can see ourselves in them.

Director Peter Hewitt, while having directed some pretty bad movies in his career (including Garfield, Zoom, and Thunderpants), is on the ball for the majority of the ninety minute running time this time around. He seems to realize that the biggest strength of the script he is working with is with the three main characters, so when these characters are talking or at work, he doesn't punch things up for the most part. He is mostly content to just point the camera at the actors (who are clearly having fun in their roles), and let them do their stuff. That's not to say he don't add some tricks of his own. Occasionally he mixes in a little style, ranging from using stop-motion animation during the initial robbery planning, to using split screens. Occasional color such as this helps the movie to not become one-note, and keeps the audience alert and interested. There's nothing wrong with his direction, though the script, as good as it is with its sympathetic and likable characters, does have a few minor nitpicks. There are a few small details that are never explained, such as how George got his hands on complex robbery equipment such as night vision goggles (which are ultimately never used in the robbery, by the way), to how Charles managed on his own to come up with a van painted to look exactly like the vans used by the museum to transport the art works to the airport. If there is one nitpick of significant size to be found with the screenplay, though, I would say that there's not quite enough time given to the men speaking in great depth amongst themselves early on. Specifically, their move from lamenting about the art works being moved to thinking about robbing the art works seems a little abrupt. If the screenplay given them a little more time to introduce them and get them to get to know each other better before the robbery started to be planned, I think the movie might have been better. On the other hand, the movie does move briskly from start to end as it is, and more chat might have slowed the movie down. Whether the movie could have been improved here or not, as it is, it still manages to be an amusing way to pass ninety minutes of your time.

(Posted September 12, 2014)

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See also: The Five Man Army, Foolproof, Special Delivery