Pacino and De Niro give electrifying performances in this sprawling three-hour Los Angeles cat-and-mouse crime thriller.
Dir. Michael Mann
1995 | USA | Crime/Drama/Action| 170 mins | 2.35:1 | English
NC16 (passed clean) for violence and language
Cast: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Ashley Judd, Natalie Portman, William Fichtner
Plot: A group of professional bank robbers start to feel the heat from police when they unknowingly leave a clue at their latest heist.
Distributor: Warner Bros (Park Circus)
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
(Reviewed on DVD – first published on 16 Aug 2015)
Billed as the first time heavyweights Al Pacino and Robert De Niro meet in the same screen space and time (The Godfather Part II (1974) doesn’t count), Heat is one of Michael Mann’s best works. It is a sprawling three-hour epic set in the streets of Los Angeles as a hard-nosed but shrewd detective Vincent Hanna (Pacino) chases after a street-smart master thief Neil McCauley (De Niro).
It is an intriguing battle of wits in this remarkable crime drama that makes the most of its long runtime to great effect. Mann structures the whole film around a midpoint where both Vincent and Neil meet in a conservation over coffee. It is Heat‘s most important sequence, functioning as the fulcrum to which the stakes are assessed, re-evaluated and raised. It is an unorthodox way of telling the story, but it works, and also gratifying audiences, if only briefly, from a marketing point-of-view.
Pacino and De Niro give electrifying performances, and their characters are so well-developed that by the end of the movie (I won’t spoil it for you!), neither is quite the archetypal bad or good guy. There and then, and throughout the film, we witness two men trapped in their own cat-and-mouse chase, in a case of ‘I tempt you, you tempt me’.
“I do what I do best, I take scores. You do what you do best, try to stop guys like me.”
In a subtly perverse way, Mann shows that both need each other to exist. They are partners, but at the opposite sides of the law. In an alternate universe, they might have been lovers. The relationship dynamic between Vincent and Neil is the reason Heat continues to intrigue, twenty years on. Mann also reveals their failures with women for different reasons, but in the grand scheme of the film, these failures also tell us more about their single-mindedness to succeed as strengths.
Heat is rather talky, but also violent when the action comes. The standout action sequence comes roughly two-thirds into the film: an elaborate bank heist to rival some of the best bank heists in cinema. There’s chaos and quite incredible gunfights across the streets of busy Los Angeles lasting for what seems like a good ten or so minutes.
Mann has had a great career with films like Thief (1981), The Last of the Mohicans (1992) and The Insider (1999) – even his latest dud Blackhat (2015) wouldn’t change his status as one of the most acclaimed of American directors to emerge post-1980s. Heat no doubt sees Mann at the top of his game.