- Rated R
- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Bob Westal
ince its release, “Heat” has only grown more popular among fans of ultra-macho action and angst, and it’s easy to see why. The first hour rolls like a freight train through a landscape of coolly professional cops and robbers with train-wreck psyches. And, of course, it also represents a cinematic summit meeting between the two superstar actors most closely identified with the 70s-generation of urban, ethnic leading men specializing in emotional extremes. It wasn’t the first time Al Pacino and Robert De Niro had been in the same movie (that was “The Godfather: Part II”), but “Heat” was the first time the two would appear onscreen together — even if only for a few minutes, and most of it in that now famous restaurant scene.
Clocking in at just less than three hours, “Heat” begins with a high-stakes armored car robbery gone brutally awry. A new member of the team, led by supercool loner Neil McCauley (De Niro), turns out to be not much more than a serial killer, and the robbery becomes a bloodbath. Problems mount. Among them: McCauley finds himself falling for Amy Brenneman’s lonely graphic artist. For most 55-year-olds, this would be a fantasy come true, but not so much for a guy whose personal philosophy boils down to "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’s also worried because his partners have ignored his advice, and one of them (Val Kilmer) is a compulsive gambler whose wife (Ashley Judd) is ready to split.
Lt. Vincent Hanna (Pacino) is another of the thief’s problems, but he’s not in much better shape than his quarry. In the tried and true tradition of movie cops, his own marriage to the gorgeous and intelligent Justine (Diane Venora) is ready to hit the rocks. Nor is it helping that his stepdaughter (Natalie Portman) has some serious issues with her own absentee father, or that her new father figure is emotionally distant because of his obsession with work.
Writer-director Michael Mann (“Collateral,” “Miami Vice”) has genuine flair and he’s not afraid to go to some odd and interesting places, but it gets a little old and, at times, very overwrought. There’s the gorgeous backgrounds, the kinetic energy and the somewhat pretentious electronic sound track. Not to mention those high-end apartments and designer clothing that, in the Manniverse, even cops and unlucky degenerate gamblers are somehow able to afford. And, of course, everyone is desperately unhappy and unable to connect with those they love. Mann has never written a character who is not sleep-deprived.
If I sound like I’m not all that enthralled by “Heat,” you’re mostly right. I admire Mann’s emotional commitment and his sense of style, but it also grates on me. Though the film has a few precious humorous moments, most of those fail — Mann’s sense of humor here borders on the Germanic. And, for all its concern with emotions and psychology, the film lacks humanity. Personally, I had a hard time sympathizing with the thieves’ personal problems, given their cold-blooded approach to their victims — and I say this as a fan of “The Sopranos.” Something is missing here. Worse, Mann can’t help but remind us of how serious and important every frame of his film is. This makes me it seem less serious and less important.
Still, “Heat” manages to be almost as exciting as it is annoying, and there’s nothing I can say or do that’s going to stop anyone from putting “Heat” on their all time top-10 lists. Its cult only continues to grow and, in 2009, there’ll be a “Heat” video game featuring the voices of Pacino, De Niro and Val Kilmer. How many points do you get for surviving wrenching family crises?
Special Edition DVD Review:
This two-disc special edition comes with all the usual features, starting with a commentary from Michael Mann, which is very, very serious and somewhat informative, and – love it or hate – all Michael Mann. The bonus disc contains 90 minutes of deleted scenes and interviews with Mann and many of the cast and crew recorded for the DVD re-release.