Ben Affleck: My 11 Favorite Heist Movies, From Inception to Heat
Ben Affleck, whose The Town is being lauded with award nominations, curates his top heist films, from Heat to Inception.
1. The Friends of Eddie Coyle
That’s probably my No. 1. It definitely is vis à vis The Town. Same setting—they even had the same safe front in one of the bank robberies, like, the actual safe was the same in ours as it was in Eddie Coyle. I don’t know what that says except that they don’t update safes very much. We put a little piece of dialogue from The Friends of Eddie Coyle on the television that someone’s watching in The Town. It’s an exceptional film. It does what I try to do, which is to make it seem real. It’s not sexed up, it’s not glam. You feel like these are real guys, who really are doing this. And the stakes feel kind of dangerous and real in a sort of slightly scary, upsetting way; I think the way it would in real life.
There’s an incredible sequence in Rififi where there’s no sound during the robbery. I watched that a bunch of times before making The Town. Rififi shows how much you can do, when that sort of tension is created so elegantly and so sparely. It’s just magnificent. That was also something I wanted to steal for my movie.
Heat is the seminal, modern heist/robbery movie. It was made in ‘95. Still, a movie hasn’t been made since that has a deeper feel of authenticity. It feels so real that bank robbers then copied Heat. And when I was interviewing people in prison they referenced Heat. And when I was interviewing the FBI, they referenced Heat. So, aside from feeling bummed out that I’d always be in the shadow of Heat, I can certainly tell you, for sure, with great authority, that Heat is the one movie that’s cited as the real thing by people who really do that stuff.
Inception is about heisting something really different; they’re breaking into someone’s mind. Leonardo DiCaprio’s really, really good in the movie, and Christopher Nolan is an extraordinary director. It’s virtually entirely visual effects, and yet you never think about it. There’s never a moment when you’re going, “OK, here’s the dragon that flies over, or here’s the robots,” or whatever. It all feels real. It’s the perfect example of story driving the visuals and the way, if the story’s working, it’s seamless, no matter how many pyrotechnics are going on.
5. Ocean’s Eleven
That’s definitely the seminal Rat Pack movie, where they came up with this idea of the contemporary cool guys coming together to pull off a job. That’s the perfect example of a movie that’s smart and still fun. You really are having a good time and rooting for these guys, and I think it spawned a whole sub-genre of movies afterward. Inception is a more cerebral, kind of convoluted, version of that thing, where you’re feeling the drama and the intensity of what these guys are doing. In Ocean’s Eleven, you’re admiring them and having fun with them while they’re doing what they’re doing—ripping off the casinos.
6. The Bank Job
Bank Job is a really cool little movie that has a feeling that it wasn’t made for much money. There isn’t a lot of gloss about it. Again, it feels gritty and real, but also, it’s sort of a hybrid—it’s also sexy and fun. It’s got some of that Ocean’s Eleven stuff in it, some of that, ‘Oh, this is how these guys did this.’ It has this classic, expertly done sequence, sort of like Rififi, where the guys are drilling underground, and you’re wondering, Is the policeman gonna come knock on the door and discover them? You know, just sort of classic, really good filmmaking stuff, adorned with this wonderful style. For me, it was a sense of discovery about England and this era and the sense that they got it right.
7. The Usual Suspects
Usual Suspects was amazing because, to me, it was the first modern movie that had that incredible twist. That reveal at the end of the movie that was done so expertly, where they threaded it, and you thought you were watching one movie, and at the very end, you realized you were watching a completely different movie. It was magnificent. I remember Jon Hamm and I were on the set of The Town, in that scene where Jon’s talking to Blake Lively at the bar, and Jon’s like, “Oh, that’s just like that scene in The Usual Suspects, isn’t that incredible?” I’m like, “Yeah, it’s amazing.” And Blake’s like, “What? What movie?” I was like, “ The Usual Suspects!” And then I realized that Blake was 5. And that depressed me.
8. The Killing
I don’t know if that was one of Stanley Kubrick’s favorite of his movies, but I felt, watching it, even though it’s an older movie, the brutal realness of what was happening. It never felt like a movie, it always felt like you were watching something real, a documentary about it or something. And I think that is the best feeling you can get. Obviously, there are Kubrick scholars who go on and on about it, but to me it’s just a question of impact and the dramatic integrity of it, and in that sense it ranks up there with anything.
9. Reservoir Dogs
Reservoir Dogs showed what you could do with very little—dialogue, acting, tension. You never saw much of the robbery itself. And it was just incredible writing. You realized you didn’t need to see guys with explosives and shaped charges, hanging from wires, to feel the tension and to feel the way that the heist was really about man’s primal nature. And obviously it was the movie that made everybody go, “Who is this guy, who made this movie?” Quentin Tarantino changed movies. He made it for a million dollars. In fact, Matt Damon and I talked about Reservoir Dogs a lot when we were writing Goodwill Hunting, because we thought, “OK, we’ll write the movie really small and contained, and find somebody like Harvey Keitel, and get it financed” the way we had heard Quentin had done.
I think Brad Pitt is as good in Snatch as anyone’s been in anything. That whole weird, gypsy accent that he does, and the way the labyrinthine plot stretches, and wraps itself around the movie, up and back, and all the characters are really well drawn. And the style—I never thought it was style for its own sake, it all seemed to serve the story. Benicio del Toro: amazing. All that really high speed stuff that guy did, and the boxing. I just thought it all worked fabulously. It’s a cool, fun, energetic, gripping movie to watch. And it’s got a great title.
11. Point Break
The Town owes a lot to Point Break. In that movie, they found the bank robbers because whenever the, I don’t even know what the expression is, the “big, great” waves would move around to various locations, the robberies would move with them. It was fun, it was really specific to a certain environment and world, which is what we were trying to do with The Town. And it had this really creative, interesting, visual way that these robberies would happen, that didn’t undermine the film’s sense of realism.
Ben Affleck wrote and directed the films Gone Baby Gone and The Town , in which he also stars. Other acting credits include The Company Men, Hollywoodland, and Shakespeare in Love . In 1997, he won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, with Matt Damon, for Good Will Hunting , in which he also starred.