The Hot Rock Film Details
Overview: Dortmunder and his pals plan to steal a huge diamond from a museum. But this turns out to be only the first time they have to steal it…
Tagline: How many times does it take to steal the same diamond?
Review: Traditionally, the heist film (aka the caper film) has unreeled in a fairly predictable, three-act format. In the first section, our protagonists pull together a team and plan their crime, “casing” the bank, jewelry store or whatever and examining diagrams, schematics and so on. In the second, the actual crime is perpetrated, and in the third, the viewer waits to see if the gang will actually get away with its crime. Various films have emphasized each of these three sections. While “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950) was more concerned with the actual planning stages, “Rififi” (1954) and “Topkapi” (1964) are fondly remembered today for their supersuspenseful, central crime sequences. And then there are films such as “Reservoir Dogs” (1992), which deal wholly with the heist’s aftermath. Confounding the genre’s conventions completely, however, is the 1972 outing “The Hot Rock,” in which the planning sequence is kept to an absolute minimum, and the central crime is committed not once, but rather, four separate times! In the film, based on Donald E. Westlake’s 1970 novel, the viewer meets a career criminal, John Dortmunder (an exceptionally likable Robert Redford), on the occasion of his latest release from prison. “My heart wouldn’t be in it,” he tells the warden (fans of the “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” show will recognize Graham Jarvis here), as regards his going straight in the outside world, and indeed, as soon as he steps out of jail, he is picked up by his wacky brother-in-law, Andrew Kelp (a very amusing performance here from George Segal), in a stolen car, and the two begin to plot out their newest caper. It seems that the U.N. ambassador from the African nation of Central Vatawi will bankroll them to steal the diamond known as the Sahara Stone from the Brooklyn Museum…plus give them $100K for the job. And so, the two men, assisted by loony driver Murch (the maniacal Ron Leibman) and explosives expert Greenberg (Paul Sand), put a plan into action. However, through a series of plot complications too lengthy to go into here, things just keep going wrong with this seemingly jinxed caper, and ultimately, to get their hands on the eponymous hot rock, our quartet must not only pull off that job at the museum, but also break INTO a jail, raid a police station, and bypass the security system of a Park Avenue bank’s safety-deposit vault! The team must also deal with Greenberg’s conniving shyster lawyer of a father, hilariously portrayed by the great Zero Mostel, and employ such tools as a helicopter, hypnosis, bombs, physical force and good old-fashioned scamming to achieve their objective, in this increasingly loony escapade. As I watched Dortmunder & Co. seemingly accomplish their impossible mission at the Brooklyn Museum in this film’s first 1/2 hour, I found myself thinking, “This is too easy…and what is this movie going to do for another hour now?” Not to worry. “The Hot Rock” turns out to be what is essentially a quadruple heist film, only the object of the four heists is the same; “the habitual crime,” as the understandably upset ambassador calls it, and indeed, viewers will be hard put to imagine what could possibly go wrong next. Redford is simply marvelous as the resourceful Dortmunder, a man whose cool exterior belies his incipient ulcers, and who is forced to keep popping tummy pills throughout the film, after his doctor tells him “Don’t get into tense situations”! As it turned out, 1972 was a very good year for Redford, with three major films evenly spaced out during that time: “The Hot Rock” in January, “The Candidate” in June, and “Jeremiah Johnson” in December. And this viewer is secure enough in his heterosexuality to state that the man looks amazingly handsome here; the ladies should just love him in this picture! As for the rest of it, the film is often laugh-out-loud funny, its single most amusing line probably being Zero’s “Eat your hearts out, you sappy bastards!” Director Peter Yates, who had been responsible for making 1968’s “Bullitt” such a crackerjack success, works a similar magic here, and the film’s score, by the legendary Quincy Jones, features contributions from such jazz luminaries as Gerry Mulligan, Clark Terry, Grady Tate and Chuck Rainey. The film also provides us with an overhead tour of lower Manhattan, as Murch pilots the quartet by helicopter, and thus we get to see, close up, the Twin Towers, in the process of being constructed. Seeing these two buildings on film has always been bittersweet since 9/11, but seeing them still in their formative state is more moving still. The bottom line, then, is that while “The Hot Rock” might not be as ingenious as some other heist films, is sure is unpredictable, funny, twisty and amusing. Redford, of course, would go on to appear as crooks in such films as “The Sting” (1973) and “Sneakers” (1992), but he has never been more ingratiating than he was here. Our sympathies are wholly with him and his criminal endeavor, and we hope against hope that Dortmunder will NOT be sent to jail again…and for life this time, as he tells Kelp. So DO Dortmunder and his cronies get away with their heist by the picture’s end? I would never dream of telling (I’ve probably revealed too much already!), but let’s just say that in a world where happiness is such a slippery goal, success can be as elusive as that darn hot rock….
Country: United States
Duration: 101 min
Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime
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