Pitch Black Heist (2012) dir. John McClean
Just to temper expectations, this is not part of Vin Diesel’s Riddick series. (Also, language warning, though the naughty words are spoken in a delightful brogue)
Heist tropes are plastic. A heist plot has a rigid checklist of elements. There has to be a target, a plan, a complication, and the outcome of the film must hinge on the success or failure of the mission. Lose any of these and it won’t read as a heist. On the plus side, one only needs those elements to become a recognizable heist film, and you can add to and subvert them at will. This guarantees a certain amount of freedom to play without breaking the structure. This also makes it a subgenre that plays well within a variety of larger genres. Sexy Beast, Inception, and Toy Story 3 are all heist movies.
“Pitch Black Heist” uses the heist framework to sneak in a family drama. The film checks off the front and back elements quickly – target and plan are abundantly clear within three minutes. The payoff happens in the final three minutes. That leaves about six minutes for the complications, in this case, the our protagonists (Liam Cunningham and Michael Fassbender) getting drunk and high together as they wait for the signal to start the job.
The joy of the heist film is watching the plan in action. Here Maclean cleverly denies us a visual of the attempted theft itself. Instead the heist portion is played in complete darkness, with light only entering when the over-genre becomes apparent. We’ve discussed the twist in shorts previously and this is another example of a film that plays much differently a second time around, like getting a pair of night vision goggles.
Maclean and Michael Fassbinder would reteam for the feature Slow West, which also stretched its second act time while playing with genre parameters. That movie has its moments, but as usual the experiment works better in shortform.