Heat (1995)

Heat (1995)

  • Score: 4/5
  • Genre: 4/5
  • Did I enjoy it: Yes.
  • Did it move me: Mostly.
  • Rewatch:  Looking forward to it.
  • Art/Pop: Surprisingly arty for a big budget cop flic.
  • Noteworthy/Significant: In retrospect, not much.

I remember the considerable buzz, likely promoted by the filmmakers, when Heat came out, about the first on-screen meeting between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, two of the top actors of their generation. I also remember the counter-buzz when viewers realized they only shared two scenes in a long movie, especially long for its time. This gave the whole film a shroud of being good but okay, perhaps a bit disappointing; as a result, I never made seeing it a priority. What a mistake that was.

There are traditional cop films: cops track down and stop the bad guys. Then there are heist films: charismatic bad guys with spirit plan great thefts and pull them off. In the cop films, you root for the cops, for whom you know it is 95% likely they will get their men (and women), the only mystery being how; in Heist films, you root for the “bad guys (and gals)”, for whom you know it is 95% likely they will pull it off, the only mystery being how. Fairly often in Heist films, they will have the bad guys stealing from other bad guys just to make it that much easier to root for them.

Heat utilizes the gravitas and familiarity of its two leading men to blur these closely-related but distinct sub-genres and create something rare in crime films: uncertainty and unpredictability (see also, 1975’s Dog Day Afternoon, curiously enough starring a much younger Al Pacino). I watched Heat with a friend of mine; about halfway through, she turned to me and said “I really want them to get away with it, is that wrong?”

Blending two incongruous genres is not the only magic trick in director Michael Mann’s bag: Heat builds slowly, laying out a large series of different, seemingly unrelated, plot threads one by one, breathing and taking its time, while continuing to be engaging. I remember thinking about 45 minutes in “How can this be going so slow, yet I am completely engrossed?” The answer, of course, is: really good writing, directing, and acting.

A dark film, much of Heat seems to take place at night, with a noir-ish, almost Blade Runner-esque vision of LA, reinforced by a mostly ambient electronic soundtrack by a series of pioneering electronic artists, including Brain Eno, William Orbit, Steve Roach and Moby. These decisions create a somewhat timeless, otherworldly universe for the story to unfold in, which in itself becomes an interesting juxtaposition to the direct and authentic dialog and characters: there are few characters in the film who are not gray.

The supporting cast also deserves kudos, and is remarkably star-studded: Val Kilmer, Ashley Judd, Jon Voit, Tom Sizemore, a young Natalie Portman, Mykelti Williamson, Danny Trejo, William Fichtner, and a series of fun-to-spot cameos including Hank Azaria, Henry Rollins, Jeremy Piven, and rapper Tone Loc.  

Toward the end, Heat slides toward convention, an unfortunate, if slight, disappointment that does not undermine its accomplishments.

Review Date: 06/23/2019

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