Short Film Fanclub: Pitch Black Heist – Den of Geek

Originally published on Den of Geek on 13th August 2014

Welcome to Den of Geek’s new feature, Short Film Fanclub, where I’ll be shining a spotlight on all the great short films you may not have heard of. First up, an award-winning short featuring one of the most famous actors in the world spending a quarter of the film in total darkness…

Who fancies a drink down the pub with Michael Fassbender? Who just fancies Michael Fassbender? Either way, Pitch Black Heist has something for you. Winner of the BAFTA for Best Short Film in 2012, this is a comic tale of a robbery that’s a lot more complex than it initially seems.

Written and directed by John Maclean, the film features Michael (Michael Fassbender) and Liam (Liam Cunningham) as two thieves tasked with breaking into a safe and stealing its contents. The problem is the room features a light-sensitive alarm which they can’t disable. They have to perform the robbery in total darkness. In other words, it’s a Pitch Black Heist.

The title is reflected not only in the plot, but in the decision to shoot the film in black and white. It lends an appropriate dullness to the opening training scenes in the warehouse, making Michael’s subtly growing frustration at his partner’s endless chatter all the more plausible.

The use of a wide angle lens also contributes, giving the viewer a lot of information in a single shot. When their boss Isaac (Alex MacQueen) tries to explain the job while Liam interrupts him with tea orders you can see Michael getting visibly pissed off by the second, even though he doesn’t utter a word.

Fassbender is as brooding and intense as he’s ever been, creating an intriguing dynamic with the older and cheerier Liam. This comes to a head with a subtle shift in tone as the pair wait in a pub for the call to begin the robbery. Hours pass with no contact and what do they do? Call Isaac and find out what’s wrong? Rehearse their plan? Nah, they sack it all off, grab some pints and get high.
The high contrast lighting in this scene adds a certain glamour as the pair lip sync along to “If There Are Stars in My Eyes” by Teresa Brewer on the pub’s jukebox. Frankly, Fassbender’s never looked cooler. Waltzing around with a pool cue for a partner the camera tracks his languorous stroll and suddenly the heist doesn’t seem so important anymore.

The pair bond over pool, arm-wrestling and several uncomfortable conversations about the father who walked out on Michael, before they finally get the call they’ve been waiting for. They stagger down the street, looking more like they’re returning from a night out than beginning a delicate heist, and reach the target. Here, Maclean makes his most daring move.

As Michael and Liam enter the location, his camera goes with them, plunging the screen into darkness. For two whole minutes you’re left staring at a black screen, as traditionally the most exciting part of any heist movie unfolds. The dialogue says more than enough as the pair try to crack the safe and Maclean reveals the sting in this film’s tail…

Pitch Black Heist is a charming and witty deconstruction of the high-budget Hollywood heist movie, driven by its fascinating concept. It’s also a delight to see big names like Fassbender, Cunningham and Macqueen shine in less auspicious surroundings and do justice to such a great script. Best of all, Pitch Black Heist is only 13 minutes long and it’s available free on Film4’s website, right here. Who’d say no to that?

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