Criminal Programming: The algorithmic heist and narrative control
Hallvard Haug, Birkbeck, University of London
Wednesday 30 October, 4pm
Room 106, University of Westminster, Wells Street
The heist is a staple of popular crime cinema. Developed to a mature, codified form in the 1950s, the traditional heist film centered on a band of criminals executing a carefully planned crime together, with emphasis on the successful execution of the heist itself. Based on the traditional detective story, early examples in fiction usually had the gentleman thief, such as Arsène Lupin or Raffles, rather than the ensemble. While the genre has been reworked in films such as Reservoir Dogs (1991) and Sexy Beast (2000), moving the focus away from the heist itself, there has been several highly stylised big-budget films in the traditional heist format in the last decade: the Oceans Eleven remake and its sequels (2001-2007), the remake of The Italian Job (2003) and in such recent blockbuster cinema such as Fast Five (2011) and Now You See Me (2013), as well as television series such as Leverage (2008). With roots in the classical detective story, which relies on careful narrative control in order to reveal the mechanics of a crime, one might say that the traditional detective story relied on the common pre-relativistic view of a deterministic universe to legitimise such narrative control. This paper proposes that the contemporary heist movie, while still relying on strict narrative technique and convention, has turned to a modern form of determinism: the control afforded by information and algorithm. To explore this, the paper will compare the original Ocean’s 11 and Italian Job films with their contemporary remakes to explore how programming and algorithms have become colloquial metaphors for controlling outcome.