Hacking Humans Goes to the Movies 5.21.23
Ep 19 | 5.21.23

Who says the perfect heist doesn't exist?


George Clooney: This your first time being robbed? You're doing great. Just smile, Loretta, so you don't look like you're being held up.

Dave Bittner: Hello, everyone, and welcome to a special edition of the Hacking Humans podcast -- an occasional series we call "Hacking Humans Goes to the Movies." I'm Dave Bittner, and I'm joined by my CyberWire colleague Rick Howard. Hey, Rick.

Rick Howard: Hey, Dave. How are you?

Dave Bittner: Doing well, doing well. On this show, Rick and I look at some of our favorite clips from cinema and television, clips that demonstrate some of the scams and schemes Joe Carrigan and I talk about on Hacking Humans. We've got some good clips to share, so stay tuned. We'll be right back after this message from our show sponsor. All right, Rick, I'm going to kick things off for us this week, and I have a good clip, if I do say so myself. This is from the 1998 crime comedy movie Out of Sight, which was directed by Steven Soderbergh. Do you know this one?

Rick Howard: Oh, absolutely. One of my favorites.

Dave Bittner: Yeah. So this film stars George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez.

Rick Howard: I will say a young George Clooney when I saw the clip today, right?

Dave Bittner: Yeah.

Rick Howard: He looks very young here.

Dave Bittner: 1998, 25 years ago, right? But I've got to say, I mean, is there more star power on a screen than George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez?

Rick Howard: No. It just radiates.

Dave Bittner: Maybe George Clooney and Julia Roberts.

Rick Howard: I guess so.

Dave Bittner: So this film received Academy Award nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing. So we're talking about a quality flick here. Clooney plays career bank robber Jack Foley. And Jennifer Lopez is a US Marshal named Karen Sisco. And the story is that Jack Foley escapes from a Florida prison with the help of his right-hand man, Buddy. And during their getaway, Jack and his friends head north to Bloomfield Hills to visit a shady businessman who has a diamond stash. And at the same time, this US Marshal is chasing Jack. It's unclear whether she's pursuing him to arrest him or because she loves him. So there's that kind of a.

Rick Howard: You know, because I run into that obstacle like every other week, right?

Dave Bittner: Yeah, right, exactly. But, meanwhile, there is a vicious criminal and his crew who are looking to rob the mansion of the character Ripley who has the diamond stash. And so the story follows that chase and eventually leading up to the robbery. Now, the scene that I'm sharing today is part of the opener of the film. We see Clooney, he's in the lobby of a bank. And this is a fairly big bank. I would say this is one of those big-city bank lobbies. High ceilings. Lots of room. Really airy. Has a feeling of permanence, right?

Rick Howard: Yeah, yeah. You feel like lots of money is stuffed somewhere behind the vault somewhere, yeah.

Dave Bittner: Right, right. You know, marble walls, wood, you know, all that good stuff. People in suits. So the tellers are off to one side. And when the scene opens, Clooney is standing at that little desk that most banks have where you can get your deposit slips or, you know, fill out any paperwork you need to do before you visit a teller. And he's sort of nervously playing with a Zippo lighter.

Rick Howard: I know, that was annoying me too. It's like, what is he doing, okay? And surely that was drawing attention, that's what I was thinking. But, you know.

Dave Bittner: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think he's just -- I think it's a nervous tic.

Rick Howard: Yeah.

Dave Bittner: But so you'll hear that in the scene. That's what sort of the clicky, clinking kind of sound is. Other things to know before we start this. There's a bank executive's desk on the floor of the lobby. And as the scene opens, Clooney is watching that executive who's having a meeting with another businessman, who's sitting across from the desk and has a briefcase sitting on the floor next to him. And the briefcase is open. So Clooney. Go ahead.

Rick Howard: I think -- we want to make it clear that Clooney doesn't know that guy at all. He just happened to notice the situation.

Dave Bittner: Right, right. And so Clooney watches these two men doing their business for a beat, and then he heads up to the counter and engages one of the tellers. So let's check out the clip.

Rick Howard: Here's that annoying sound.

Dave Bittner: Playing with a lighter.

Rick Howard: Yeah.

Dave Bittner: Watching the two men doing business. Boy, he is handsome.

Rick Howard: Remember that young face. Yes, he is. Yes, he is.

Dave Bittner: He is a handsome man. So he heads over to the tellers. Looks like it maybe, you know, mid-afternoon. The bank's not terribly crowded. Doesn't seem like we're dealing with a lunchtime rush. And he steps up to engage with the teller.

Loretta: How can I help you, sir?

George Clooney: Loretta, you see the man talking to your bank manager, has his case open?

Loretta: That's Mr. Gwendon, one of our assistant managers. Our manager is Mr. Schoen. He's not in today.

George Clooney: But you see the man with the briefcase?

Loretta: Yes.

George Clooney: That's my partner. He has a gun in there. If you don't do exactly what I tell you or if you give me any kind of a problem at all, I'm going to look over at my partner and he's going to shoot your Mr. Gwendon between the eyes.

Rick Howard: Uh-oh, that can't be good. And then he gives them -- gives her that smile. Oh, my.

George Clooney: All right, take one of those big envelopes and put as many 100s, 50s, and 20s as you can pack into it. Nothing with bank straps or rubber bands. I don't want any dye packs. I don't want any bait money. Start with the second drawer, and then the one over there, underneath the money counter. Okay. It's okay. Come on, Loretta. Key's right next to you.

Rick Howard: And he just looks at her like, this is all a normal, 9-5 kind of thing tellers do every day.

Dave Bittner: He's taking the money out of the drawer.

George Clooney: This your first time being robbed? You're doing great. Just smile, Loretta, so you don't look like you're being held up. You got a very pretty smile. You got 20s? Give me the 20s. I'll take those. There you go. I'll put those in my pocket. There you go. I have to give my partner a sign. Now, that's good. Now, he's going to wait 30 seconds until I'm out of the building, make sure you haven't set off the alarm. If you have, he's going to shoot your Mr. Gwendon between the eyes. Okay?

Loretta: Okay.

George Clooney: And I think that'll do it, Loretta. Thank you. Have a nice day.

Loretta: You too.

Rick Howard: She says, "you too."

Dave Bittner: He heads over to the desk where the two businessmen.

George Clooney: Hey. She's cute, isn't she?

Armed Gunman: Yeah, she seems very nice.

Dave Bittner: And, of course, they have no idea who he is, right?

Rick Howard: Of course not, yeah. Oh my.

Dave Bittner: All right, where do we begin here, Rick? I mean, we've already mentioned the undeniable star power of George Clooney. And if you want to have someone pulling off a bank robbery and using charm, you can do no better than George Clooney, right?

Rick Howard: He's the guy. He's the guy you want, right, to do that?

Dave Bittner: Yeah.

Rick Howard: And the thing that strikes me about this clip, Dave, is the audacity of it, right? Because he's on his own. There is no net. If anything goes wrong, he's caught, right?

Dave Bittner: Right.

Rick Howard: But here he is, he jumps right in and he controls the situation. And it is really a master class in social engineering.

Dave Bittner: Yeah. He has no gun, right?

Rick Howard: No gun.

Dave Bittner: There is no physical threat to the teller. In fact, the physical threat is to her coworker on the other side of the bank lobby.

Rick Howard: Which isn't real, right?

Dave Bittner: Right, right.

Rick Howard: There's no gun there either, right?

Dave Bittner: No, no. And the whole time, he's smiling at her, he is cool as a cucumber. He manages to put her at ease, right, I mean, to a degree.

Rick Howard: A couple of times, right?

Dave Bittner: Yeah.

Rick Howard: Because you can see she's about ready to spin out of control and he calms her down, right? So nice, nice work.

Dave Bittner: Then he tells her to have a nice day, and she says, "you too." This is a nice little button on the end there. Well, it's just really straightforward social engineering. It's the boldness of walking into a place like you own the place and nobody questioning that.

Rick Howard: The only thing that I can see that's wrong with the scam is that he is there -- first, I think we mentioned, he's dressed to the nines, right? He's got a fantastic suit. But he is not covering at all. So if there are any cameras, he's totally nailed. Am I wrong about that?

Dave Bittner: No, no, you're right. He's on a bunch of cameras.

Rick Howard: Especially in that place, right?

Dave Bittner: Yeah. And I don't know what the whole plan would be here. But, you know, he is a bank robber, so he's done this before.

Rick Howard: Exactly. And he's just escaped from prison. So, you know, his photos are going to be everywhere.

Dave Bittner: Right.

Rick Howard: So I guess this is just running cash, you know. He's not going to stick around town, I'm guessing.

Dave Bittner: No, no. I mean, let's say he gets, I don't know, 10 grand or something like that out of this.

Rick Howard: Yeah.

Dave Bittner: Maybe that's enough to, you know, head south and start a new life for himself, having just gotten out of prison. Maybe that's the plan.

Rick Howard: Audacity, that's what I'm going to. Audacity.

Dave Bittner: If course, it doesn't work out, and the rest of the movie goes from here.

Rick Howard: Goes south.

Dave Bittner: Yeah, in a hurry. All right, well, again, that is from the movie Out of Sight. Definitely worth checking out, if for no other reason than the star power of George Clooney making its way through the screen. That's my clip this time. What do you have for us, Rick?

Rick Howard: So my clip this week is from one of my all-time favorite heist movies, Dave, it's 1999's The Thomas Crown Affair. Have you watched this one before?

Dave Bittner: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Rick Howard: So it's directed by John McTiernan. And he's most known for The Predator and Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October. It stars Pierce Brosnan in the middle of his James Bond run, and Rene Russo, probably best known for the Lethal Weapons movies and Get Shorty. And my personal favorite, she plays Thor's mom in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So she's got that going for her.

Dave Bittner: Right.

Rick Howard: So Brosnan plays a self-made millionaire, Thomas Crown, who is bored with his success. And to keep himself amused, he steals priceless masterpieces of art. And in this opening scene, he is stealing a Claude Monet from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. And we have background music here from the famous Bill Conti, who is responsible for the soundtracks of all the Rocky movies and countless Academy Awards shows. And, in the opening scene, you see Brosnan strolling the hallways of the museum exhibits. He is immaculately dressed, as well-dressed as George Clooney was in the last clip we just saw, right?

Dave Bittner: If not better, yeah.

Rick Howard: Even better, right? He's got a gray suit and a vest, an impeccable tie, a bright white dress shirt. And how do I say this, Dave? He is James Bond handsome, right?

Dave Bittner: Yeah. No, it's true.

Rick Howard: He just is.

Dave Bittner: It's true, yeah.

Rick Howard: And you can tell right away that Brosnan is a regular museum visitor and, you know, he knows all the security staff by their first names. But he is a bit miffed because his favorite gallery, the Impressionist Gallery, is closed for cleaning. So he runs into one of the senior security guards, Banning, dressed in a security guard uniform. Those guys are wearing maroon jackets, gray pants, matching tie. And Brosnan's complaining. So let's start the tape there.

Dave Bittner: All right.

Pierce Brosnan: Hey, Bobby, I've been evicted.

Bobby: What do you mean?

Pierce Brosnan: The Impressionist Gallery, closed for cleaning.

Bobby: Cleaning?

Pierce Brosnan: Yeah.

Rick Howard: Bobby thinks that's odd.

Bobby: Ed, want to lend me a hand here for a minute?

Ed: Certainly.

Rick Howard: So the scene shifts to inside of the Impressionist Gallery. We see a couple of ethnic-looking guards shooing customers out of the room. One of them has pulled out a walkie-talkie and issues instructions in a language that is not English. And at this point, Bobby arrives with his two guys.

Bobby: What do you think you're doing?

Guard #1: Yes?

Bobby: What?

Guard #2: Upstairs.

Rick Howard: Clearly, he can't speak English.

Guard #2: They've got some VIPs coming through.

Bobby: I didn't hear about it. I oversee this section.

Guard #2: Call upstairs if you like.

Bobby: No, you're right. They've been having people down here all week.

Rick Howard: So Bobby turns away and notices a spinning shadow beaming down from the ceiling skylight that looks like helicopter blades. Bobby pulls out and extends his stun wand and attacks the guards. And the scene shifts to outside the gallery again where Brosnan is sitting, reading the paper. You can see the bad guys running out of the room towards Brosnan. He sticks his foot out and trips one of them and they go to the ground. And the guards subdue some of the bad guys and hit the alarm button. So now steel reinforced doors start to close from the ceiling, and this is Brosnan's moment. As the Crown and the guards are busy. Brosnan drops to his knees and rolls into the gallery before the steel gate hits the floor. Now he's in the gallery by himself. He jogs into the room where the Monet is hanging on the wall, puts on rubber gloves, yanks the painting off the wall, pulls the canvas out of the frame, and grabs his briefcase that he'd stashed under the bench before the chaos. The case is perfectly designed to contain the exact proportions of the canvas. And he sprints back to the steel gate. And we notice that it doesn't close all the way. It is stuck at about knee level to Brosnan. Brosnan rolls through the gate again, and the camera notices another briefcase wedged into the opening between the floor and steel gate. Brosnan stands up and casually walks out of the museum with his briefcase in hand -- the case that contains the Monet. Meanwhile, the guards round up all the remaining bad guys. And as Brosnan catches the taxi outside, the music fades into the classic song Sinnerman, sung by the indominable Nina Simone. Dave, start to finish, that was 3 minutes and 21 seconds. And I'm going to say right here, I'm going to die on this hillside, it is my Mount Rushmore of the perfect heist scene.

Dave Bittner: Okay. I can't disagree with you. It is certainly exciting, well-executed, well-planned, well-shot, all that kind of stuff, well-acted. You want to unpack it for us? What are the hidden elements here?

Rick Howard: Well, I think the kind that people would want to dive into is, what was going on with the briefcases, right? So we noticed that he -- remember, he rolls into the Impressionist Gallery as the steel gates come down.

Dave Bittner: Right.

Rick Howard: He magically appears a briefcase. Where did that come from? And when you watch the rest of the movie, you know that he came in beforehand. And the briefcase is designed to be the exact right size as the sitting stool inside the gallery. So he places it underneath the stool and it looks like a third leg to a two-legged stool. So nobody notices it when he walks away, right?

Dave Bittner: Interesting, yeah.

Rick Howard: So that's one thing that he does. But then, as he's running out after he's got the painting, right, with his briefcase in hand now, we see a second briefcase, identical, that's sitting on the floor and holding the gate open so he can escape, right? And the question that the cops have to answer is, where did that briefcase come from?

Dave Bittner: Right.

Rick Howard: Any clues there?

Dave Bittner: No. Ans it was a question I had. So I had that question. I wonder if museums actually have big steel doors that slowly drop down. And I'm willing to suspend my disbelief for that for the purposes of the movie. But then I wondered if that was a big steel door that slowly drops down? That must be one heck of a reinforced briefcase to be able to hold it up.

Rick Howard: It totally is, right? And we watch the rest of the movie, you see that that particular briefcase was reinforced like titanium or something like that. So it was built in particular to hold that gate open. And Brosnan, because he was a regular coming into the museum, sometime before, he stuck that briefcase underneath that stool again as a third leg and let it sit there. And nobody noticed it until the next day, right? So that's how he did the juggling of all that. And you were talking about, is that a real thing or not. Remember when Bobby pulls out his shocking wand and hits the guards?

Dave Bittner: Right.

Rick Howard: That's a completely made-up thing they made up for the movie. I had to look that up.

Dave Bittner: So the other thing I wonder is just sort of the setup for this. Like because Pierce Brosnan's character is pulling all the strings here, right? So are the fake guards and the helicopter all just misdirection? Folks that he hired?

Rick Howard: Yeah, that's exactly what it is. It's completely misdirection that he funded. He financed that heist knowing that he wanted them to fail, right? And knew exactly how to make them fail, you know, when he was involved with it. So he paid for that whole thing just so he can run out with the Monet on his own.

Dave Bittner: So it's a double-cross.

Rick Howard: It is. It is a fantastic movie. It is a -- and that's just the heist scene. The rest of the movie is a cat and mouse as Rene Russo -- who plays an insurance agent -- tries to track him down and learned that he really was the burglar and not somebody else.

Dave Bittner: Yeah, yeah. I sure do like Pierce Brosnan. I've been a fan of his ever since the Remington Steele days. Do you remember that show?

Rick Howard: Oh, me too. Yeah. And I was excited when he was the James Bond, right?

Dave Bittner: Well, right. I mean, when he was doing Remington Steele, it felt like he was the obvious era parent to James Bond. And then when the time came, they wouldn't let him out of his Remington Steele contract.

Rick Howard: I remember.

Dave Bittner: To be James Bond. So it took a few more years till he got his shot at it. And I thought he was a solid James Bond.

Rick Howard: He was my favorite James Bond until Daniel Craig came along, right? And then he took him off the board for me. But he was my James Bond out of all of them.

Dave Bittner: Yeah. He sure looks the part. All right, well, that is The Thomas Crown Affair. And we will have a link to Rick's clip here in the show notes.

Dave Bittner: That is our show. The Hacking Humans podcast is proudly produced in Maryland at the startup studios of DataTribe, where they're co-building the next generation of cybersecurity teams and technologies. Our senior producer is Jennifer Eiben. Our executive editor is Peter Kilpe. I'm Dave Bittner.

Rick Howard: And I'm Rick Howard.

Dave Bittner: Thanks for listening.