THE GREAT SALISH HEIST Almost Gets Away with the Loot

The heist movie is the sunnier younger cousin of the crime film genre. Unlike their dark and gritty counterparts, heist stories tend to be witty, humorous, and even glamorous with the perpetrators tending to be sympathetic underdogs with their “victims” often being wealthy, pompous, and could stand to lose a few trinkets. We’ve seen heists from casinos (Ocean’s Eleven), art museums (The Maiden Heist), and even security-ridden Washington D.C. (National Treasure), but you’ve likely never seen the more timely story of Indigenous artifacts being heisted from an elitist museum. Enter Darrell Dennis’ feature directorial debut The Great Salish Heist.

Deep in the territory of the fictional Moquohat nation, traditional archeologist Steve Joe (Dennis) is down on his luck, having lost his young son in an auto collision the previous year and convinced that his selling of a sacred Moquohat mask is the source of his endless night terrors. 

Compounding his woes, Dennis soon learns that the Royal Western Canadian Museum (also fictional) intends to ship its current collection of Moquohat artifacts abroad for a European tour, despite local opposition. Convinced that the separation of the sacred objects from their land of origin will cause increased community suffering, Dennis has little trouble gathering a ragtag team of local misfits to assist him in a daring plan: liberate the artefacts from the museum and replace them with custom fakes.

But the plan has some caveats as the team not only as to contend with a new security system installed by the overzealous Walter (David James Lewis), but the bankrolling of a Russian mobster (Duncan Ollerenshaw) who expects to be compensated by the genuine artefacts and won’t easily be fooled by fakes, especially with an ace authenticator (Trevor Hinton) in tow. It might literally take a village to pull this caper off.

The Great Salish Heist manages to pull of its engaging premise with panache, aided immensely by a standout cast populated by notable screen names (Graham Greene, Tricia Hefler), established local talent (Andrea Menard, Taylor Kinequon, Corey Schmitt) and even some surprises (where ya been, Ashley Callingbull???). Armed with a tight screenplay, the characters are all well-drawn, memorable, and wouldn’t be out of place in an ongoing series set in the Moquohat Nation.

It would be deceptive to suggest that the whole enterprise isn’t somewhat undermined by unusually shoddy production value at times. The entire movie is often marred by poorly-rendered VFX, ostentatious colour grading, and even some on-screen credit errors (Graham Greene and Tricia Hefler are credited twice in the beginning). I usually allow some latitude for Canadian productions given lower budgets north of the 49th, but some of the work on display here is especially sloppy.

Despite losing some points in the technical presentation, The Great Salish Heist retains audience goodwill with its fresh spin on an aged subgenre and likeable characters augmented by spectacular casting. Worth a rent or stream.


The Great Salish Heist screens theatrically beginning in Chemainus on March 9

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