1995. Directed by Michael Mann.
Recently re-released with a stunning 4K transfer, Michael Mann’s acclaimed L.A. crime saga Heat is arguably not only one of the greatest films in his formidable filmography, but also the pinnacle of full throttle storytelling. Featuring a duo of searing performances by screen icons Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, Mann’s trademark urban visuals, and one of the greatest action sequences ever filmed, Mann’s epic treatment of professional thieves and the dedicated lawmen who hunt them transports a Samurai mindset into the modern world in a hail of bullets.
Neil leads a crew who takes down high profile scores. After a job goes wrong, Neil is put into the crosshairs of Vincent Hanna, an obsessive detective whose life is dedicated to the pursuit, that culminates in a daring day time heist and a subsequent shootout in which no one is safe. Expanding upon his script from a failed TV pilot, Mann builds a straightforward world of good and evil before pulling the lines uncomfortably close. Packed with memorable dialogue and unforgettable confrontations, Heat dances around the inevitable showdown of its two leads before annihilating any sense of predictability in the climax. The diner scene between Pacino and DeNiro is remarkable, forgoing the ease of tension by focusing on the basic similarities between two souls who are mirrored, yet set apart only by circumstance.
This is the brilliance of the film. Mann weaves an outstanding ensemble across multiple storylines, some of which are purposefully left hanging to give the viewer a grounded sense of the playing field, complete with sidewalk demons and lost souls looking for meaning from friends, family, and personal ethics. Discipline and the adherence to code, both tangible legalities and metaphysical ideals, are the marrow of Mann’s exposition. Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Danny Trejo, William Fichtner, Henry Rollins, Ashley Judd, Mykelti Williamson, Dennis Haysbert, Tom Noonan, Jon Voight, Diane Verona, Amy Brenneman, Hank Azaria, Jeremy Pivens, and Xander Berkely fill out the supporting cast, but it is Natalie Portman who shines with a handful of scenes. Her performance is the ultimately casualty, the real world consequences for the actions of those who live beyond the law and those who are consumed by it. Relationships are a key component, given an ample amount of time to establish that both sides of the coin are people, despite their choices, adding an undercurrent of humanity that strengthens the narrative by presenting the characters as flawed, but genuine souls with dreams waiting to be shattered under the LA sun.
Eliot Goldenthal’s score, combined with a fantastic soundtrack musically narrate the drama, using Mann’s patented masculine deconstructionism to create an entity unto itself. Moby’s God Moving Over the Face of the Waters in the finale is both beautifully tragic and perfectly applied, an auditory summation of the ultimate neo-tragedy that Mann has created. Deborah Lynn Scott’s costume design has a vintage, minimalist quality, presenting both cop and robber as natural affixtures to the world on display. Heat is a free range compound where killers and flawed saints play cat and mouse games while reality perseveres, unaware of the dangerous stakes being sought out and the way that each character is perfectly accessorized is a welcomed conspirator.
Dante Spinotti’s cinematography has a wonderfully layered quality, capturing the moments between the action with Mann’s trademark blue hues and fevered close ups. Los Angeles is portrayed as a metropolitan Gemini, a twinned persona of complicated domesticity and unrelenting violence. This idea is constantly explored, but the payoff is in the legendary shoot out that begins the final act. There has never been a more technically proficient display of gunplay ever committed to film. The sound design and mixing are a blessed mixture of panic and fury. The actors, particularly Kilmer’s unrestrained focus, show military tactics that are perfectly executed in a manner that affects the viewer on a base level. These are dedicated experts of their trades, challenging one another over a lifetime of personal devastation in the name of said commitments and the result is simply unforgettable.
Ultimately, Heat is a stalwart member of top tier American cinema. The new release is available on Amazon for less than eight dollars and is without a doubt worth every cent. Heavy on exposition, grandiose on the action, this is everything a crime thriller should be.
Highly. Highly Recommend.