Running time: 2h 50min
Directed by Michael Mann
Written by Michael Mann
Starring Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer
Michael Mann’s Heat is by now a classic crime thriller/action film, made almost legendary by great casting, great direction, and perhaps the best shootout scene in the history of cinema. I would not say that it is a perfect movie, but it does come close. Despite its almost 3 hour running time, it manages to entertain and thrill even on a rewatch.
The story, which is loosely based on true events, is kicked off when a disciplined and hardened group of criminals start to attract unwanted attention from law enforcement after a heist goes wrong. The crew is led by Neil McCauley (De Niro), and the cops are headed by Vincent Hanna (Pacino). The movie follows both groups in their professional and private lives, focusing on the two main characters. As they become more and more aware of eachother, McCauley and Hanna, who are both consummate professionals, develop a sort of mutual respect towards eachother.
McCauley’s philosophy is to be able to walk away from anything and everything if the “heat” comes down, but things get complicated as he falls in love with bookstore employee Eady (Amy Brenneman) and is simultaneously driven by hatred to kill a lowlife named Waingro. The romance between McCauley and Eady is fairly weak in my opinion, perhaps the worst part of the film, and works only barely to show McCauley’s human side in addition to giving him a reason to not stick to his game plan as the police close in. In order to be as effective a criminal as he can and to stay alive and out of prison, he should be following the rule he set out, but what if he wants more? Obviously this leads to complications. While McCauley is weakened by love and hatred, Hanna, who is a workaholic, is struggling with his private life. While the plot is good, it is the near-perfect execution of every other aspect of filmmaking is what makes Heat special.
The casting is brilliant. Back in the 90s when they weren’t geriatric caricatures of their former selves, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino were both known as icons of acting; they had both had incredible careers at that point already, starring in many legendary films and having won the oscar for best actor in a leading role. In fact, a big selling point for the film was these two actors together on screen. I would say that it is not their best work, but they they are both very good here — though Pacino does overact quite a bit (it works in the film, however, and could be interpreted as the character’s rampant drug use showing outwards). Val Kilmer and others do well also, and Kevin Gage is great as the revolting psychopath Waingro –not that he’s as fun a villain to watch as someone like Alan Rickman as the suave Hans Gruber in Die Hard (1988).
While the whole film is excellent, the bank robbery scene is so good that it dominates the rest of the movie, which one could even think of as a flaw. When rewatching, that is the sequence one probably looks forward to the most. There is an intense, feverish sense of excitement and danger present in this scene, and it feels very realistic as well due to the sound design and how the guns are handled. One can also keep track of what is actually going on at all times and where everyone is, unlike in some action movies where, either due to incompetence or as an attempt to hide incompetence, following the scene becomes a chore. That he was able to do all of this so well in such a complex sequence is a testament to Michael Mann’s (The Last of the Mohicans (1992), Manhunter (1986), Collateral (2004) etc.) ability as a filmmaker. Heat, which he also wrote and produced, is probably his magnum opus, and definitely my favorite of his films. It looks fantastic, and the sound design is equally impressive. The film is almost 3 hours long, but the editing and pacing make it seem shorter.
I love how it seems as though it is never quite clear who is going to win or who is going to survive. The action and violence has real weight to it, as it feels as if anyone could get hurt or die, which makes the viewer care more about what is happening than they otherwise would. While this is obviously partly an illusion, as plot armor does apply to some characters, it is not as evident as it is in weaker films.
To sum it up, Heat is one of the greatest films of its genre. It is still as effective as it was in the 90’s and has not aged poorly in any respect. While some aspects, such as the romance subplot, are not executed with such perfection as the bank robbery scene, Heat is a true classic.
Rating: 9.0 / 10
Times I had seen this film prior to this viewing: at least 4
Would I want to rewatch this film? Eventually, sure