Heat (1995) / Thriller-Drama
MPAA rated: R for violence and language
Length: 170 min.
Cast: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Amy Brenneman, Kevin Gage, Ashley Judd, Wes Studi, Ted Levine, William Fichtner, Dennis Haysbert, Natalie Portman, Tom Noonan, Hank Azaria, Danny Trejo, Henry Rollins
Small role: Tone Loc, Jeremy Piven, Xander Berkeley, Bud Cort
Director: Michael Mann
Screenplay: Michael Mann
Review published July 23, 1997. Revised on March 2, 2013
Neil McCauley (De Niro, Casino) is a professional criminal who has earned a living with big "scores". After pulling off an armored car heist in which three guards are killed, he and his cohorts find they have the heat hot on their tail in the form of Vincent Hanna (Pacino, Glengarry Glen Ross), an LAPD detective with an obsession for his work in catching high-profile crooks like Neil. Now on the verge of pulling off his biggest heist, Neil must decide if he's willing to take Vincent's heat or stay out of the kitchen.
Chalk up another winner for Michael Mann (The Insider, Ali), who impresses in turning a rather mundane police potboiler into a smart, well-crafted, tense action drama. There's no finer director in the business when it comes to creating mood and atmosphere, romantic and macho at the same time, and Heat sees Mann at the peak of his creative prowess.
Heat is notable as being the first movie to have powerhouse actors Al Pacino and Robert De Niro sharing screen time. (Both actors did appear in The Godfather Part II, but in wholly separate storylines). Starting with TV's "Miami Vice", Mann has enjoyed showing the dichotomy of cops and criminals, often depicting their relationships as two sides of the same coin. One is the hunter, the other the prey, and usually they both have admiration for the other's professional finesse, despite their unwillingness to ever change their spots. Both are willing to take the shot, if it ever came down to the two in a showdown. When tenacious cop meets tenacious crook, only one is going to emerge victorious.
And both struggle for a normal life that their respective occupations just won't allow if they want to be successful. Vincent is struggling to maintain the attention of his third wife (Venora, Romeo + Juliet), who is perpetually complaining that he's married to his job and all she gets is the leftovers. Not only is he always leaving at the first instance of a phone call, but he won't discuss the job to her, letting it all stew inside to maintain the semblance of sharpness. The normally impeccable Neil sees some light at the end of the tunnel, needing just one more big job to be able to afford to get away from it all, and he soon gets involved with an attractive graphic designer named Eady (Brenneman, 88 Minutes).
Heat plays out mostly as a drama, but when it does deliver action, it delivers with a wallop. Gunfights and car chases spill out into the crowded city streets where civilians run rampant and get used as human shields. Some viewers may carp that three hours is a bit long for a movie that isn't epic in scope or adventure. Certainly there are parts of the film that could have been trimmed down without losing the overall vibe of the piece, especially the storylines involving the personal lives of Neil's partners in crime. Nevertheless, those scenes are interesting enough such that Heat remains a very tense, rich and absorbing three hours that tends to suck the viewer in from the get-go.
For devotees of the two leads, it's must-see material, and perhaps the last great movie made starring either of the powerhouse thespians of 1970s cinema (Donnie Brasco fans may argue). Both of them are magnetic. For lovers of crime dramas, Heat has few rivals, and is considered a classic of the genre. It's a precision film, running like clockwork to its ultimate destination, but with Michael Mann at the helm, it's a well-oiled machine.
©2013 Vince Leo