When it comes to Michael Mann, who is one of my absolute favorite filmmakers, his most epic film is undeniably HEAT. When it comes to overt machoism mixed with an incredibly gritty street film, it doesn’t get any better than this film. Only Michael Mann could bring together Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in a film like this.
Playing off the clout of Pacino and De Niro, Mann creates this layered film, showing two men who are essentially the same, yet took two different life paths. Both men have a foundation of honor and respect, and live by the code of the street, yet their paths have crossed, and there will only be one that comes out on top.
The fact De Niro and Pacino share two scenes throughout this long film, further solidifies Mann as one of the world’s best living filmmakers. Mann also used the “less is more” technique in my favorite film of his, MANHUNTER. In that film, Mann rarely shows us Hannibal Lecter, creating a more effective character. The fact that Pacino and De Niro share two scenes, and in the grand scheme of the film they are rather brief, works tremendously well. It all builds to a shattering climax between the two of them.
Mann’s authorship is making a visual striking film using overt color tones to each of his films. Mann loves color, because he knows with his audience, everything is seeing. With HEAT, the entire film is layered in blue tones. There are not any vibrant shades of blue, the blue tones are dark, and darker.
In this film, what do the blue tones tell us? How do they make us feel? The way I view the film, through different shades of blue, are two major themes. Masculinity and authority.
Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Danny Trejo, Dennis Haysbert, Ted Levine, Henry Rollins, Tom Noonan, Wes Studi and William Fitchner are all masculine actors, and all bring gravitas to this film. In HEAT, we’re living in an alpha male world, and there is little room for anything less. From the start of the film, we see an incredible armored car robbery by bad men in hockey masks, adding to their size.
Cut to Pacino’s introduction, where he’s making love to his wife. Pacino is the alpha in his relationship, and is apathetic to his marital problems, because where his fire lies is with other alphas. Whether working with them (Levine, Wed Studi) or chasing them (De Niro and his crew).
Val Kilmer’s marital problems parallel Pacino’s. I imagine Kilmer being the younger, more flamboyant alpha. Of course, all of them are seen in different shades of masculine blue.
Authority is the other major theme, not necessarily the authority of law enforcement, but authority of a code of the streets. Honor, respect, loyalty. While these two groups of hard men are on opposite sides of the law, they both live by the same code, and have nothing but admiration and respect for one another.
Pacino and De Niro are the same man, but on flip sides of the same code. They both know who they are, and what they want, and they’re secure in it and admire one another for it.
I have much more to say about this film, and if you’re reading, you’ll just have to wait for our next podcast this Sunday.