Genre: Crime Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 50 min.
Release Date: December 15th, 1995 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Michael Mann Actors: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Ashley Judd, Amy Brenneman, Diane Venora, Wes Studi, William Fichtner, Natalie Portman, Tom Noonan
aybe director Michael Mann’s theatrics flair a bit bright at times, and perhaps an overabundance of characters milks screen time from those more deserving, but the precious few exchanges between legendary actors Al Pacino and Robert De Niro make it all worthwhile. “Heat” remains one of the finest examples of contemporary “cops and robbers” cinema with its deafening firefights and cat-and-mouse trickery woven amongst the grittily realistic lives of both criminal and lawman alike. The epic crime saga also features arguably the greatest bank robbery sequence ever filmed – which is, to this day, still being copied.
Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) is a master thief; Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) is the detective in charge of stopping him. Though on opposing sides of the law, both men find their personal lives consumed by tragedies brought on by their extreme devotion to comparably demanding professions. While McCauley struggles with his ideals of detachment and the prospects of newfound love Eady (Amy Brenneman), Hanna must confront his failing marriage and deteriorating home life. After an armored car heist ends in bloodshed, McCauley and his gang of thieves – including Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer), Michael Cheritto (Tom Sizemore), and Trejo (Danny Trejo) – find themselves hunted by the relentless detective. As the LAPD steadily closes in around them, McCauley must match wits with Hanna and weigh the risks of attempting one final score.
The film examines the effects of both crime and crime fighting on relationships and family, careful not to glamorize either side disproportionately – or really at all. The cops are shown to be overzealous in their mission to catch crooks, especially when their loved ones unstably cry out for attention. Similarly, the villains are real people too, complete with emotional complications and familial interests. Mann goes so far as to develop a supporting character, getaway driver Donald (Dennis Haysbert), simply to show the disinterest the system has on accepting criminals and to create yet another believable crook – downtrodden, stuck in a permanently disadvantageous societal condition, and thus pressured into returning to transgressions – with which the audience can sympathize. The robbers are all humanized to the point that, as demonstrated by an eventual face-to-face meeting of criminal mastermind and unrelenting policeman, the lines of differentiation are poignantly blurred.
“Heat” features the bank robbery scene to end all bank robbery scenes. It’s a tense, suspenseful, climactic heist that careens out onto the crowded L.A. streets where machinegun fire can rattle about with piercing, alarmingly vivid sounds, and bustling bystanders and persisting panic can escalate the situation into a full blown action extravaganza – without ever feeling over-the-top or nonsensically exaggerated. Although the back-and-forth hail of bullets in general never slows up, many criticize “Heat’s” nearly three-hour runtime, which spends a good deal of momentum focusing on the collapse of the many side characters involved, especially when it concerns children (including Natalie Portman in an early role) or disapproving, estranged wives (including Ashley Judd and Diane Venora).
Ultimately, the film is most noteworthy for its reunion of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, who both possess such strong personalities and invigorating screen presences as to be perfectly matched to play on opposite sides of the law (and parallel approaches to duty and morality). “Heat’s” message is powerful too: when it comes to the families of those caught up in the never-ending battle for justice and law and order, no one truly wins. The act of surviving doesn’t designate fortune, happiness, or comfort.
– The Massie Twins