A police epic that lives up to its reputation
In the pantheon of detective films, Michael Mann Heat is the one that often comes up in conversation. And although I’ve been a fan of Mann’s previous work – notably Collateral and its adaptation of miami vice – I did not see Heat. However, after watching the film, I can say the praise is well deserved, as Mann has not only crafted a sprawling crime epic, but also a tale about relationships and how easily they are formed and broken. Combined with the magnetic performance of robert deniro and Al Pacinothis approach makes Heat A must-see movie.
Heat owes its existence to the exploits of a true criminal, Neil McCauley, of the same name as the character played by De Niro. McCauley was an extremely skilled criminal who got into a game of cat and mouse with a police detective and ended up getting shot. While most Heat is fictional, its events having a real-life basis help the film stand out from other detective capers of the era, such as Se7fr Where pulp Fiction. While those films relied on a flashier visual style and catchy dialogue, Heat has a lot more in mind.
The film begins correctly when McCauley and his team of criminals successfully rob an armored truck. Things go awry when new member Waingro (Kevin Gage) kills one of the truck’s guards, prompting a firefight. This also catches the attention of Lt. Vincent Hanna (Pacino), who is determined to bring the criminals in. From the jump, Heat draws parallels between Hanna and McCauley. Both are extremely skilled in their line of work, as Hanna is able to piece together the events of the robbery simply by looking at the crime scene, and McCauley plans the heist down to the smallest detail.
Relationships are what give ‘heat’ its spark
But where the film really draws a line between the two is their relationships with others and how those relationships are strengthened or weakened. Hanna is in his third marriage, and he and his wife Justine (Diana Venora) are slowly moving away. Things aren’t helped by the fact that Justine’s ex-husband neglects to spend time with their daughter, Lauren (Natalie Portman). McCauley, meanwhile, sticks to a simple code that he recites like a mantra: “Don’t get attached to something you don’t want to leave in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner. street.” Great for pulling off burglaries, less in practice for starting a relationship, which turns McCauley’s whole life upside down when he falls in love with entertainer Eady (Amy Brenneman). As McCauley gets so serious about Eady that he breaks his vow to run away with her, Hanna separates from his wife – even seeing her cheat on her with him.
Another relationship pair that provides a nice contrast to the movie is the way McCauley treats his fellow thieves VS the way Hanna treats her co-workers. McCauley’s crew is more like a family; they support each other and even eat together at the restaurant, with each member of the crew bringing their family. True to this loyalty, McCauley hunts down and brutally executes Waingro after he sells out the other members of their gang to the LAPD. In contrast, Hanna sees her fellow police officers as little more than tools to be used in the pursuit of justice. He also doesn’t take kindly to people who get in his way and often threatens them with jail time or worse.
That memorable dinner scene
Eventually, Hanna and McCauley come face to face in a restaurant, in the film’s most memorable scene. There they talk about their obsessive nature and how they can’t stop what they’re made to do. Mann boils the intensity here slowly simmering, as De Niro and Pacino look down on each other. “You do what you do, and I do what I have to do,” Hanna told McCauley. “And now that we’ve been face to face, if I’m here and I have to put you away, I won’t like it.” McCauley replies, “What if you get me locked up and I have to put you down? Because no matter what, you won’t get in my way.” This exchange proves prophetic, as the two have one last gunfight at an airfield and Hanna fatally shoots McCauley. Yet, in a sobering moment, Heat closes on Hanna standing over McCauley’s corpse, holding her hand. Eventually, the duo found a connection with each other.
Heat is also one of the most tense films I have ever seen. Mann knows how to create suspense, as his camera follows McCauley and his team as they walk through a bank with the intention of robbing it. From there, the action escalates into a shootout – bullets shatter glass, ripping flesh and blood flying. Mann shot the entire film on location, resulting in a more immersive experience. I was on the edge of my seat watching McCauley and his crew attempt to escape, and leaned back with a sigh of relief after they did. Kudos also to Elliott Goldenthalwhose score goes from haunting to heartbreaking in no time.
A killer cast
And in line with his future films, Mann has stacked the cast with a row of killer talent. In addition to De Niro, Pacino and Portman, there are Val Kilmer as McCauley’s right-hand man, Chris Shiherlis; Jon Voight like its close Nate; and Ashley Judd as Chris’ wife, Charlene. Same Denis Haysbert and Danny Trejo have brief roles. And each actor uses their screen time: Haysbert, for example, plays a character who gets out of jail and tries to get right but ends up being the getaway driver for McCauley’s team. Mann also used actual LAPD members in his film, which further adds to the authenticity.
Mann recently wrote a sequel to Heat, which covers McCauley and Hanna’s lives before the events of the film. It also inspired other films, including The black Knight as a director Christopher Nolan is a huge Mann’s fan, and Guillaume Fishtner has a role in both films.
When all is said and done, Heat is one of the few films that manages to live up to its reputation years after its debut. If you’re looking for a good thriller or have some spare time, give it a watch. You will not regret it.