After the critical and commercial
success of The Last of the Mohicans,
Michael Mann found himself with some serious clout in the
It's not too difficult to see why; some flaws aside, this is a great picture.
Lieutenant Vincent Hanna (Pacino) is a hunter, a ruthlessly commanding and aggressively tenacious officer in L.A's Robbery/Homicide division. Hanna's a phenomenal cop, in no small part due to his inability to balance anything else in his life. He's been through three wives with no noticeable success on the domestic front; he remains icily distant from wife number three Justine (Diane Venora), who is ostensibly cheating on him, while ignoring her disaffected daughter Lauren (Natalie Portman). Hanna's criminal counterpart is Neil McCauley (De Niro), a first-class thief and consummate professional. McCauley is nothing short of smart, calculated, and guarded. He takes no risks, nor does he engage in any thrill-a-minute kicks. His criminal activity is his job, and he covers every single angle with nothing less than 100% dedication and patience. If he has to drill through steel, he spends his nights reading up on metallurgical stress fracture points. His personal credo provides proof positive of the dedication he retains for his profession: "Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner." He lives alone, retains no personal attachments, and lives a non-descript life that will in no way distinguish him as anything other than mundane and ordinary.
Both men are tangential to each other. They are anthropomorphic personifications of their careers, the very best at what they do, the epitome of everything they represent, both positive and negative. Hanna cannot keep a marriage afloat, given that he has to disassociate what he does during the day with what (and who) he comes home to at night. And yet, Hanna can never achieve true disassociation, remaining obsessed to the spectre of his job. Comparatively, McCauley has the freedom to achieve any kind of domestic situation he desires, yet he consciously eschews that type of personal connection with anyone. His complete dedication to the perfection of his technique requires that he avoid any sense of permanency in all aspects of his life. Both men are razor-sharp brilliant, but the film transposes traditional roles – the brash, explosive intensity of the cop contrasts against the cool, calculating precision of the robber.
Heat begins with McCauley and his gang knocking over (literally) an armored car in a well-planned bond heist that goes awry thanks to loose cannon Waingro (Kevin Gage). A new recruit for the gig, Waingro's callous and capricious execution of one of the guards (thus forcing the gang to have to execute all of the guards) brings them to the attention of Hanna and his crew. While the heist is successful, McCauley ends up in the position of having to eliminate Waingro as an unacceptable loose-end. Through a fluke of luck, Waingro escapes execution, and McCauley moves on to another endeavor: the daytime heist of $12 million from a downtown L.A. bank, with Hanna hot on his tail.
The plot is almost simplistic in description, but the movie is anything but. The two-hour, forty-five minute film is an elaborate character study, and not just of the two main actors either. The storyline is rich with fully fleshed, realistically depicted and thoroughly researched characters. Val Kilmer delivers a strongly understated performance as Chris Shiherlis, McCauley's right-hand man and perhaps the closest thing he has to a brother. Chris is a degenerate gambler; any money he can score goes to paying off his various debts, a fact that does not go unnoticed by wife Charlene (Ashley Judd), a former prostitute who is always a stone's throw away from leaving him. Both actors are so strong in their roles that they leave an indelible impression on the film. Jon Voight makes much out of his small role as Nate, McCauley's contact and go-to man. He only has a handful of scenes, but he owns each and every one of them. Also memorable in their roles are Tom Sizemore and Danny Trejo as other members of McCauley's gang, Dennis Haysbert as a paroled con finding the road to legitimacy a hard one indeed, Amy Brennerman as McCauley's budding love interest, as well as Natalie Portman, Hank Azaria, and William Fichtner. There is a ton of great acting talent put on parade in this film.
The film suffers from a slightly bloated running time. The histrionics of Hanna's domestic life drag the film somewhat; some judicious editing may have made these elements more compelling. The subplot involving Waingro's murder of a black call-girl almost seems superfluous. Yet, Heat succeeds in almost every other facet. Mann's richly detailed script and cool directorial hand produced one of the most engaging crime dramas ever filmed. And the bank heist sequence is easily one of the most exciting and white-knuckle action scenes ever filmed, bar none.
Then there's the entire "Al Pacino / Robert De Niro in the same movie" angle. Those awaiting scene after scene of both actors squaring off against each other will be sorely disappointed. Even though De Niro and Pacino share only two scenes against each other, the mere presence of one carries over to the performance of the other. When Hanna professes admiration to McCauley's prowess, or when McCauley sits bewildered at what brought the heat on his crew, there's a metatextual cinematic connection between the conflict of the characters and the masterful performances of their respective actors.
Heat comes in a deluxe two-disc special edition from Warner Brothers.
Heat is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and
has been anamorphically enhanced for your widescreen-viewing enjoyment. The film
mostly looks good, with the dark, stylized look of LA coming to vibrant life.
Colors are strong and richly delivered, while image sharpness is mostly
consistent throughout the picture. Some minor print wear pops up throughout the
transfer, as well as some edge-enhancement. Black levels are the only real
detracting element; they are not quite as deep and delineated as they should be.
Nighttime and dark scenes lack that requisite oomph needed for a highest-quality
transfer. The film looks very good, but not quite in the impressive to excellent
Audio:The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. As the film is mostly a dramatic piece, the soundstage is remarkably quiet throughout the movie. The sound is localized to the front, with some dynamic expansion and separation that crackles to life during the film's louder and more raucous scenes. The bank heist, obviously, is dramatically expansive and aggressive, making full use of the stage. Surrounds and LFE are used effectively in punching up the mix when needed, but otherwise this is a straightforward, acceptable soundtrack.
Extras:Disc One contains an audio commentary from writer/director Michael Mann. Mann is soft-spoken but effective throughout the commentary. Listening to this track, one comes to the realization of how much attention to detail Mann paid to the film, both in the history of the characters, the situations, and important background elements to which the camera barely pays any attention. The character backgrounds are especially compelling; Mann's based most of the characters on real-life and/or composite figures. He also provides a wealth of production and technical anecdotes. There's some dead air here and there, but I put it to you that if you are in any way a fan of the film, the commentary is must listening.
Rounding out Disc One are three trailers for Heat.
Disc Two contains the bulk of the supplemental material. The Making of Heat is an hour-long documentary divided into three parts: True Crime (15 minutes), Crime Stories (20 minutes), and Into the Fire (24 minutes). Each section can be viewed independently or all at once via the "Play All" feature. This documentary covers the gamut of the film's history and development, from its real-life history to its pre-production, development, casting, and production. Michael Mann takes the center stage throughout the documentary, as the film is pretty much his baby. All of the film's primary actors are featured, including Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Ashley Judd, Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, and Amy Brennerman. Also featured are many of the film's crew and technical advisors, providing their thoughts and reflections of the movie. This is a compelling and fascinating look at the film's history and significance, and is well worth the time and effort. It's almost as gripping as the motion picture itself.
Next up is Pacino and De Niro: The Conversation, a ten minute featurette that details the climactic dinner scene that features both actors facing off against each other. Interviews with various critics, crew and cast members, and interview footage of Pacino and De Niro are interspersed with clips from the scene as its context is analyzed and discussed. Especially interesting is how Michael Mann discusses how much he, Pacino, and De Niro "couldn't wait" to film the scene. Understandable, to be sure, but the scene's success is not in its fireworks, but rather its understated intensity. This featurette is short but provides some genuinely engaging material.
The last featurette is Return to the Scene of the Crime, a twelve minute look back at the various locations used throughout the filming of Heat. Not quite as compelling as the other material, this is still a reasonably informative featurette, but not one to which one might return to often unless you had an interest in location scouting. Rounding out the supplements are ten minutes of deleted scenes (there are 11 of them in all).
Easily one of the best big-budget studio films of the 90s, Heat has finally arrived on DVD in a two-disc set that will assuredly please even the most skeptical of fans. The bonus features contained on this set are compelling and thoroughly value-adding to the enjoyment of the film. The presentation is the only slightly disappointing issue. Not that the film looks or sounds bad; indeed on a purely objective standard, the film is presented in a fine fashion. I suppose, given the movie's acclaim and fan-favorite reputation, nothing short of excellence was expected. Still, don't let that disappoint you. The film is still fantastic, and the presentation is certainly more than acceptable enough, with a host of great extra features to boot. This is a two-disc set that easily earns its Highly Recommended status.