Heat, a much appreciated Michael Mann film, may well possess the most accurate tagline in being described as "A Los Angeles Crime Thriller," for it is precisely that and its nearly three hour runtime is much welcomed and heavy with intensity. I will admit that this movie was nowhere near the top of my radar until I heard its name repeatedly being dropped on both Battleship Pretension and Filmspotting, two of my favorite blogs, as well as being mentioned on blogs as well. I could not believe that it had managed to elude me for so long, because Heat is a god damn revelation. Many people seem weary of a star heavy vehicle, of which Heat is certainly guilty, casting Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Val Kilmer, the latter being a minor role, despite being arguably at the height of his career during the period. It would be one thing if Heat were just a cool action movie, because there were certainly a considerable amount of those coming out around the time, but it is so very much more than that and fits in well with the introspective cop thriller, much in the same vein of Training Day or even much earlier film noir pieces like The Maltese Falcon. Mann has a vision in his film, one of a group of intertwined criminals and law enforcers who, nonetheless, seem to lead desultory lives, ones that tragically require them to keep anyone they care for at more than an arms length. The vision of Los Angeles that Mann provides viewers is both a love letter and an honest critique of its faltering state. As characters move through its spaces they clearly cling to its comfort, but also manage to exist separated from it, happening very literally when Mann incorporates a green screen during certain scenes, which certainly has its production reasons, however, it does not mean a loss of metaphor in the terms of the characters attempting to distance themselves from their troubled worlds. Heat is a film that provides viewers with a story that has a slew of questions and inquires and little to few answers given in return. I would be more than willing to suggest that this big gem of a film is easily one of the best offerings of the 90's and certainly deserved of mention in the same breath as Pulp Fiction or the previously mentioned Training Day.
Heat is a multifaceted and multidirectional story that, nonetheless, centers on a large scale chess game of sorts between high profile crime boss Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) and the by-the-cuff detective Lieutenant Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino). McCauley has recently come to the attention of Hanna after a recent armored car robbery goes awry leading to the murder of a couple of guards at the hands of one of McCauley's hired hands, the wily Waingro (Kevin Gage). This act of killing makes the robbers enemy number one, requiring the aging Hanna to spend an unusual amount of time and the precinct, much to the contesting of his wife Justine (Diane Venora) who is longing for more time with her husband, as well as hoping that he can serve as a positive role model for his stepdaughter Lauren (Natalie Portman). McCauley certainly has his own set of problems, serving as an unwilling role model to a young guy named Chris (Val Kilmer) whose attempts to make a living despite a gambling addiction proves troublesome to his ability to properly engage in crimes, let alone prove a faithful partner to his wife Charlene (Ashley Judd) as well as his own role model issues with their son. What unfolds within the rest of the plot is a twisting and turning narration of each side chasing and diverting one another casting a very detailed light over the means by which crime and crime prevention occur within the city of Los Angeles. Of course, the two sides seem quite hesitant to vilify one another, particularly McCauley and Hanna who form a mutual respect for one another, even sharing a cup of coffee in one of the films best scenes. However, considering that both sides are inherently opposed a confrontation does occur and many lives are lost in the process, however, it is clear that the two main figures have grown in considerable ways, unfortunately for McCauley, his own refusal to submit to companionship proves to be his demise as he loses a shootout with Hanna, who at that point clearly has nothing to lose, although his letting go of everything, in the end, allows him to regain the love of his wife and perhaps a new outlook to his previously failing life.
What Heat manages to do is completely destroy any sort of clear delineation between good and evil in the traditional sense, particularly since the main characters who are traditionally the points of division between both sides constantly cross between the realms of what is right and what is terribly wrong. For example, Hanna clearly intends to proctor justice to those doing wrong, but his methodology and manner often exploits those weaker than himself, or truly means his turning a cold shoulder to his family life, especially when he could easily have passed his task on to another individual. Furthermore, McCauley clearly wants to get out of the game and make right by his past actions, yet his ties to such negative behavior cannot be ignored, and certainly should not be, considering that it did result in some degree of death and inherently bad behavior. In fact, one incredibly telling moment during the film is the bank robbery, in which, McCauley explains to the patrons that he is not stealing their money because it is insured by the government, but is actually stealing the money from the bank. Mann was perhaps a bit prophetic in this scene, considering that banks have, in the past few years, become a signifier of all that is bad and in doing so the director draws a connection to the bad, allowing for both Hanna and McCauley to move into the spectrum of goodness. Similarly, Mann sets up the character of Waingro to be exceptionally insane and a signifier of somebody who is decidedly evil, yet again to serve as a counter to the two main character and their faltering moral compasses. Mann even incorporates minor characters into the film plot to help show the difference between a criminal or cop who is corrupt and one who is attempting to be good, this clearly occurs with the characters of Donald (Dennis Haysbert) and Harry (Dan Martin) who serve as examples of individuals try to navigate their respective realms of corruption, despite dealing with inherently bad people. While Mann never really provides a solid answer to whose side hails as morally superior, he does seem to suggest that karma is a major thing and that doing good, will eventually pay off.
Key Scene: De Niro and Pacino in the diner is a thing of beauty. The subtlety of De Niro and the grandioseness of Pacino equates to something perfect as the actors sort of balance one another. It is a scene for the ages.
Buy this film, it is dirt cheap and a burgeoning classic, be hip to its importance before all your friends are aware of it and you will be the "in" person when it comes to cinema.