Deciding that you want to rob a bank is the easy part. We’ve all thought about it—how wonderful it would feel, shouting those first, forceful words, “this is a stick-up”—but an idle reverie amounts to very little, and pretty soon we all bump up against the inevitable: this isn’t something one person can do alone.
No, you’re going to need a team of operators filling discrete and sometimes ridiculously convoluted roles, and even then, without the proper leadership and a shared vision, you still might not pull this thing off, or if you do, you might not make a proper getaway or get the right kind of identity-altering plastic surgery later.
Choosing the right team—one that suits your particular skills and temperament—is everything in this process. First you’re going to need to know yourself. Are you likely to pop off at the slightest provocation and throw the team’s rigorous ‘no violence’ rule into question, elevating the potential punishment for all involved? Do you know how to drive a stick shift?
Then you can start to figure out where you fit in the exciting and potentially lucrative world of cinema-inspired bank heisting. So, exactly what kind of gangs are out there for you to join? Let’s have a look at some of the options.
(2006, dir. Spike Lee, wr. Russell Gerwirtz)
Leader: Dalton Russell. Intensely, almost maniacally clever, but does he really bring team members into the planning of the heist, or does he reserve all the creativity and ingenuity for himself? You’re in safe hands, yes, but are you growing as a heist-er?
Esprit de Corps: Necessarily strong. Russell’s entire operation hinges on his co-conspirators’ ability to hold up under sustained interrogation without giving away their accomplices, or even the fact of their involvement in the plot. Hostage or hostage-taker—who’s to say? This suggests Russell is recruiting from some kind of thief stock with a theatrical background, possibly out-of-work or student actors. If you have a steely nerve, some subtle flourishes with character work, and a distaste for men who betray their friends to the Nazis and hide away their loot in safety deposit boxes, this might just be the gang for you.
Antagonist: Keith Frazier / Madeleine White. You’re going to be facing a double threat here: an NYPD detective with a specialty in hostage negotiation and a shadowy power broker with ties to every major player in the city. Their goals are not perfectly aligned, remember, so you may be able to play them against one another in a pinch.
(1991, dir. Kathryn Bigelow)
Leader: Bodhi. As in, Bodhisattva. You know straight away you’re dealing with a charismatic dude. But in his quest for transcendence might he occasionally compromise his buddies’ safety? You’ve always got to consider your own skin when you’re dealing with these cult-like figures.
Esprit de Corps: Off the charts. Do you enjoy nighttime bonfires on the beach and madcap games of tackle football? Do you surf? Have you always felt a strange, inexorable pull to wander the earth chasing waves and sunshine and good times with good friends? Well, by God, have you come to the right bank robbing crew. Each one of them has his role and yes, occasionally the adrenaline might get the best of one of them, but what unites them is stronger. They also have great masks that allow for some pithy political commentary in the midst of the heist.
Antagonist: Johnny Utah and Angelo Pappas. Honestly, you couldn’t ask for better foils. Utah and Pappas are themselves outcasts in the greater Los Angeles law enforcement community. Nobody takes them too seriously. Their theories are pretty whacky. They’re always splitting up to go fetch lunch. They seem to have little to no oversight or support for months on end. And ultimately, at least one of them is going to strongly consider joining you and your crew.
(1995, dir. Michael Mann)
Leader: Neil McCauley. The ultimate survivor, you know he’s going to have this thing planned within an inch of its life, and that he’s going to have an escape route, too. The only question is, does that escape route involve you? Probably not. I mean, God forbid you try to get close to this guy or ask him what book he’s reading.
Esprit de Corps: Look, this is an experienced, meticulous team, but discipline is different than loyalty. Within the scope of the job, they’re more or less going to operate along ‘leave no man behind’ principles, but all that stops when the heat really closes in, and then you better find your own way of getting into the wind. But maybe that’s exactly what you’re looking for: professionals, who will know exactly when and how to pull the rip cord, and before that will give you the best chance of bringing in major scores. Just make sure, on a given score, you’re not bringing along any Waingros, and also be sure never to become a Waingro yourself.
Antagonist: Vincent Hanna. I mean, supposedly he’s the LAPD’s best hunter. And a former marine. And kind of an idealistic guy who’s not above sitting down at a diner and telling you face-to-face about his intentions. But when a detective is that hopped up on powder and regret, you gotta like your chances.
(2010, dir. Ben Affleck)
Leader: Doug MacRay. Former hockey pro with a strong sentimental streak. Maybe a little too sentimental to see the situation clearly, but still with an undeniable charm and an ability to move through social classes and registers with relative ease. He thrives in the neighborhood and works mostly with locals, so you’re going to need to have a perfect accent and the Dunkin’ order to match.
Esprit de Corps: This is a crew built from Charlestown’s finest, and they conduct themselves like people who’ve spent the better part of their lives together. If you betray someone on this team, you’re pretty likely to get a stare down from the guy’s mother next time you pass her on the street; and also shot. So, loyalty levels are high, but are they the most disciplined bunch? Decidedly not. Jem is right at the center of things, and while he’s a useful man in a pinch, he’s basically a savvier Waingro who could fly off at any moment. The question, always, is whether Doug can corral him and put his skills to use.
Antagonist: Adam Frawley. For an outsider, he has a pretty keen knack for sizing up the locals and figuring out who’s the hothead, who’s the weak link, who might be vulnerable to a little FBI pressure, etc. He’s not the most dogged agent who ever trailed a bank robber, but the guy is still a pretty savvy operator.
Dog Day Afternoon
(1975, dir. Sidney Lumet)
Leader: Sonny Wortzik. Look, it’s his first time. He’s working out of desperation. But his heart is mostly in the right place, and he knows how to work a New York City crowd.
Esprit de Corps: Honestly I think most of us would take one look at John Cazale’s Sal Naturile and know which way this thing was headed. The First Brooklyn Savings Bank might seem like a good score, but when you see the crew assembling around it, and you see the sweat start pouring down those gaunt faces, you have to ask a few questions about whether this thing can really stick together. Also, love seems to be one of the driving forces here. That’s always a dangerous proposition. Love of money, okay, but straight love? Dangerous.
Antagonist: Sgt. Eugene Moretti, Agents Sheldon and Murphy. These guys are basically just trying to get through the job. There are no masterminds here, just more or less desperate people trying to think and survive on the fly.