Hard-pressed by conniving fence Bergman, thief Joe Moore and his crew undertake a risky robbery. With Bergman's trigger-happy nephew foisted on the team and after Joe's wife, the plan and the relationships between thieves undergo a series of sharp turnabouts.
Just as the heist, the boost, the caper, the score is itself a staple - and top set-piece - of crime drama, we're all familiar with the the ageing, weary outlaw ready to retire when circumstances compel him to undertake One Last Big Job and tangle with a hot-headed punk who wants to supplant him.
Veteran actors are almost invariably drawn to the classic, psychological dimension of this type of role - Paul Newman and Robert De Niro have recently taken on such characters in, respectively, Where The Money Is and The Score.
So trust Gene Hackman to wring every emotional possibility out of tough, professional, crooked mastermind Joe, whose unerring eye for detail, nose for danger and love of the game allows the actor to play across a range of moods. And trust David Mamet to take an idea that's become potentially banal and give it plenty of piss and vinegar.
The pretext - Joe needs a bankroll to sail away with his cunning younger wife (Pidgeon's best performance yet for husband Mamet) - and the preparations for the heist are laid out meticulously, but still don't ready the audience for the intricacies of the robbery or the double-crosses, bluffs and betrayals.
This would be too clever for its own good if it weren't so gracefully executed. But it's all a labyrinthine premise for rich character interplay (Lindo and Jay as confederates are fantastic) and peppery dialogue shared around: 'My motherfucker's so cool, when he goes to bed sheep count him,' and, best of all, 'Don't you want to hear my last words?' 'I just did.' (Bang!).
It's also rather educational, although we hope no-one's taking notes on how Joe gets a gun past security. Mamet is making consistently good movies - Heist follows The Spanish Prisoner, The Winslow Boy and State And Main. All he needs to do now is translate that into serious box office.
Typically for Mamet, it's cool, smart and intriguing, with cracking dialogue, distinctive and deceptive characters, and a crafty plot.