1990's, Action, Al Pacino, Amy Brenneman, Ashley Judd, Crime, Danny Trejo, Dennis Haysbert, Diane Venora, Heat, Heist Film, Jon Voight, Kevin Gage, Michael Mann, Mykelti Williamson, Natalie Portman, Robert De Niro, Ted Levine, Thriller, Tom Noonan, Tom Sizemore, Val Kilmer, Wes Studi, William Fichtner
The delightful Gabriela asked me to take part in a blogtahon about Al Pacino. As he’s one of my favourite actors, I couldn’t refuse. So here’s my late entry with a review of Heat.
An engrossing action thriller with a sheen of depth and sense of character to it, Heat, with the talented Michael Mann at the helm, takes the heist film and fashions something breathtaking, surprisingly intelligent and always riveting.
In Los Angeles, Vincent Hanna(Al Pacino) is an overly dedicated, arrogant cop. His obsessed work rate has strained his third marriage to the tired Justine( Diane Venora) and made sure he can’t connect with his troubled stepdaughter Lauren( Natalie Portman) . He becomes aware of skilled thief Neil McCauley( Robert De Niro) when he and his team, consisting of talented but troubled Chris Shiherlis(Val Kilmer), edgy and pumped Michael Cheritto( Tom Sizemore) and new member crazed Waingro(Kevin Gage) steal bearer bonds from an armoured car. Things escalate when loose canon Waingro shoots a guard, causing two others to be killed to avoid being a witness. Neil is furious as he wanted a smooth operation and now they are wanted for felony murder. Mainly, Neil wants a way out of crime and lives by a code that says he can walk away from absolutely anything when he feels the heat coming from the law. This has largely made him a loner and someone who doesn’t form personal attachments. But things change when he falls for pretty and endearing Eady( Amy Brenneman). His right hand man Chris is good at the criminal job but can’t kick a gambling habit, which has estranged him from his understandably angry wife Charlene(Ashley Judd). Meanwhile, Hanna starts putting the dots together and unearths more plans of Neil’s to stage more heists, culminating in one last big score . Both men will collide and discover a strange parallel with the other, though they can easily take the other down if either encounters the other along the way. The game of cat and mouse gets more dangerous as the film progresses, also showing that both men are people who live by their own code that has directed them in life
Michael Mann is firing on all cylinders with Heat; conjuring a story of cops and robbers with more on his mind than just action. Not that Heat ever shortchanges is on action, but the dedication to plot and the little details that form are simply sublime touches. I especially enjoyed how Heat opens; setting up the characters and revealing just enough to set the appetite then discovering how it’s all linked. It’s a little thing, but it really cements your attention on the film. Back to action and Heat delivers it in spades, with particular praise being reserved for the running shootout on the streets. With quick cutting, pulse pounding imagery and a general feel of genuine danger, it’s one of the finest set pieces put on film as bullets fly and bodies fall. On the point of how Heat looks, the moody colour palette and danger with which Los Angeles is depicted with is second to none. The setting becomes just as important as the characters in the story with Los Angeles appearing as dark, unforgiving and melancholy. And for a movie that is almost three hours long, the time flies as we are that engrossed by the film that we are witnessing. Sure it might seem an excessive run time and a few minor bits ramble, but every frame feels warranted as does the enviable attention to detail that I live for. It’s one of the most action packed but inventively detailed and I enjoyed how it weaved the characters and their lives together so it fitted. It’s hard to find fault with Heat, with only a few minor parts that ramble a bit. Apart from those very small things , it’s simply masterful as a film and I can recommend Heat enough.
Where Heat truly shines and rises above many a generic action thriller or heist/ crime flick, is in its unusual dedication to giving the characters substance and a sense of having lived life. We truly get a chance to know these people and watch how their lives unravel as violence, dedication and duality collide. The relationships at the core of the film, Vincent and his wife Justine , the chance of love for Neil and Eady and Chris’ damaged union with Charlene, all add something and are explored with rare insight .Credit is down to Michael Mann for fleshing these parts out and allowing us to go between who we want to succeed. It’s most unusual to watch as our sympathies and sense of loyalty swings like a large pendulum. They are two sides of the same coin and we get to see it in full bloom in the now famous coffee shop scene. We finally see two iconic actors meet on film( they were both in The Godfather Part II but never shared scenes) and the results are sublime. Everything comes together beautifully as two men bare their souls and find an unexpected sense of respect with the other, despite their current opposition. Elliot Goldenthal is the composer and his music is sublime at matching the varying moods on screen, with a certain percussive shimmer and drums taking a large part of things. Plus adding strings brings out a certain feeling of sadness as the main men find that their lives and have morphed into stubborn ways from which each tries to escape. It’s atmospheric and action packed all at once, without forgetting human emotion.
Heat scores highly for its impressively extensive cast, headed by man of the hour Al Pacino and fellow acting Titan Robert De Niro. Al Pacino is excellently convincing as the strutting, obsessed cop who has all but destroyed what’s left of his personal life. With Pacino in the part you get the showmanship of a man who’s good at what he does and knows, tempered with underlying regret at how he’s obliterated anything close to him. It’s a fine showcase for the great man and layered too, displaying some of Pacino’s finest work. Matching him as the criminal counterpart is Robert De Niro as the master thief. Possessing a steely look, ruthless intelligence and a hidden gentleness, De Niro breathes life into the part of criminal with a code who finds it changing in never expected ways. Put simply, he’s electric in a subdued but powerful way. And whenever he and a Pacino meet, it’s simply extraordinary. Val Kilmer brings forth a weariness to his part of a skilled thief but hopeless gambling addict. For Kilmer it’s all in the eyes, which exude alternating strength, action and vulnerability throughout. Tom Sizemore has the dangerous persona and sense of inducing fear, particularly skilled when it comes to the action that erupts.
Though the film is largely composed of men, the women of Heat hold their own and are pretty integral to the story. Amy Brenneman, with her fresh faced charm and sense of kindness is the main woman in Neil’s life and though she doesn’t realise it, she starts to change his way of thinking. Ashley Judd, with a combination of grit and sadness, essays the part of a wife fed up with her husband’s inability to change. The part could have been a throwaway and thankless one, but Judd gives it dimension. The same can be said for Diane Venora, who is also a wife who wants more from her husband. She’s fierce and not afraid to confront him on it which I like. A young Natalie Portman, though only seen in a brief few scenes, still stands out as a troubled youngster struggling with life and not feeling like anyone is listening. Although seen for only a short time, Portman is pivotal to a later part of the story that impacts on Hanna.
The rest of the supporting cast is a regular who’s who of familiar faces who give life to the characters surrounding those at the centre. Standing out is William Fichtner as a slippery man in too deep and not knowing it and Kevin Gage as a very creepy guy who is part of the reason the team feels the heat from the cops. Then you have Jon Voight as the fence who you know has been doing the job as long as anyone can remember and Dennis Haysbert as a former criminal trying to do good but finding it tempting to slip back into a life of wrong. Plus that’s not forgetting Ted Levine, Wes Studi, Mykelti Williamson, Tom Noonan and a memorably pivotal Danny Trejo. It’s a stacked cast, but it’s Pacino and De Niro who are the centre and boy do they make Heat soar.
A dazzling, stylish yet unexpectedly human crime/ action thriller, Michael Mann’s Heat is a film that always gets your attention in nearly every department. Simply put, it’s unmissable.