Plot: John Dortmunder (Robert Redford) is fresh out of prison, but it doesn’t take long before he is tempted to risk a return visit, as his brother-in-law Kelp (George Segal) has a potential heist in mind. This is no common caper either, as Kelp is in cahoots with an African ambassador Dr. Amusa (Moses Gunn) and the prize is a unique jewel, a priceless cultural artifact. After some banter over expenses, Dortmunder agrees to work the heist and soon, he and Kelp add more members to the team, their friend Alan (Paul Sand) and the always useful Stan (Ron Leibman). The jewel is being shown at a museum and the crew plots the perfect scam to abscond with the haul, but despite a flawless plan, things don’t unfold as intended. This group refuses to give up however and goes back to the drawing board, but as plan after plan misses by inches, will Dortmunder and his crew ever secure the prized jewel?
Entertainment Value: The Hot Rock is an interesting, fun take on the heist genre, as it follows a skilled crew that just can’t seem to get things right, but refuse to give up on the big score. The movie adds a comedic edge to the genre’s tropes, but doesn’t delve into all out parody or slapstick. This allows The Hot Rock to have a special twist on the formula that helps it stand out from the pack, but remain rooted in the caper realm and hit all those needed genre notes. The narrative is simple, but throws in some fun turns to keep things interesting, while the characters and various heists prove to drive the movie, which isn’t a bad approach at all. After all, these kind of movies are remembered for the colorful crews assembled and the actual capers, rather than the traditional narrative elements involved. The heists are great fun to watch, with elaborate enough set ups and given that we see several capers unfold, that is no small feat. If there are issues with The Hot Rock, it would be the uneven tone and lack of real stakes, but the comedic threads more than compensate for the latter. I can see how some might prefer a more serious approach to heist cinema, but for those who appreciate colorful, well crafted capers, The Hot Rock is well recommended.
This one boasts an impressive cast and while Robert Redford is likely to draw the most eyes in the lineup, I think Ron Leibman has the most memorable performance, even if it is a supporting role. He steals countless scenes in effortless fashion, with his charm and skill at making the most of his screen time. The movie benefits greatly from his presence, as he is able to make small moments shine, whereas lesser performers would have just done the minimal requirements. So I think any scene with Leibman is better for him being around, which is high praise. Redford is more than solid and it is fun to see him in light material like this, while George Segal provides the clear comic relief, in an over the top, but enjoyable performance. These two play well off each other, as Redford takes a more reserved, straight approach and Segal is an impulsive, more emotional character, which makes for some fun moments. The cast also includes Charlotte Rae, Moses Gunn, Paul Sand, and William Redfield.
The Disc: This limited edition Blu-ray release from Twilight Time has a terrific looking visual presentation, one that has a clean print and comes through as refined, as well as quite detailed. There’s much more fine detail here than on the old DVD, but the movie still retains a film like texture, so it hasn’t been scrubbed too much. I had no issues with the bright, natural colors or even handed contrast either, so the movie looks great in this new version. The extras kick off with audio comments from film historians Lem Dobbs, Nick Redman, and Julie Kirgo, who talk about the script, the music, and Redford’s career, as well as other topics. The disc also includes an isolated music track and the film’s theatrical trailer.