It’s been a running joke for several years between me and my Flickcharter friend Nigel that I’ve never seen Heat, which is one of his favorite movies. I knew he’d assign it to me for this challenge, and sure enough, he did. To be honest, I probably would’ve watched it sooner otherwise, but I was happy to save it for his challenge week.
I won’t lie, I did a bit of a double-take when I saw this crime flick was almost 3 hours long – I even posted on Twitter asking if that was really necessary. The consensus: Yes, it is. Well, I’m not WHOLLY convinced, but my opinion is partially colored by the tendency of slow burn films to edge me into drowsy territory these days (my fault, not the film’s, but it still isn’t what I’d consider fun). And yes, this is a slow burn. It’s a crime film, but it’s very character driven, and contains a lot of scenes that aren’t strictly necessary from a plot point of view, but since the plot isn’t necessarily the main point, it’s hard to argue against them.
The overall plot is fairly simple – career criminal Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) and his crew get on the radar of hard-nosed homicide detective Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), and they play cat and mouse through the rest of the film. It’s complicated, though, by the sheer number of other characters (many of them with pretty well-developed arcs of their own) and subplots – crew member Chris (Val Kilmer) and his wife’s troubles, Neil’s new relationship, Vincent’s failing marriage and troubled stepdaughter, conniving former crew member Waingro, victim/antagonist Van Zant, etc. All of this is understandably a bit hard to keep track of when you’re fighting sleep, so I wisely took a sabbatical and the second half of the film benefited from that greatly.
The film sets up McCauley and Hanna as men who would likely be close friends if they weren’t on opposite side of the law. They’re not identical in a “there but for the grace of God go I” sort of way, but they’re compatible. They’re both the best at what they do, and they understand each other. In almost the exact middle of the film, Hanna pulls McCauley over and invites him for coffee, and though the shootout a little while later is the action climax, this is clearly the character climax, as both men lay it bare. This is the second iteration of McCauley’s philosophy on relationships – “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.” Hanna is married with a stepdaughter, but he realizes those connections are slipping away from him. Despite their obvious, though wary, rapport, neither of them is going to give an inch (and, spoiler, neither of them do). This cop/criminal relationship is far from new to the movies, of course, but they play it well here.
There are lots of other interesting threads, like Chris’s wife Charlene (Ashley Judd), who makes a deal to turn Chris over to the police but warns him in time. Most of the characters have little moments like that, making them stand out for a scene or two amongst the greater ensemble. But of course, it mostly belongs to De Niro and Pacino, who play to their strengths. De Niro is quietly authoritative, rarely raising his voice but more than willing to put a bullet or three in you if you betray him. Pacino is loud and brash, with a healthy dose of sarcasm making him the most fun to watch.
It was also great to see Michael Mann working with film – my most recent (re)watch of a Mann film was Collateral, which I love, but the deep warmth and clarity of the film stock used here was gorgeous in comparison (and especially in comparison to Public Enemies, though the look is far from the only issue I have with that film). Downtown Los Angeles is almost a character here, as it is in many Mann films, but this LA is a noirish embrace rather than a gritty underworld. I’m not quite as enthused about the score – at times it was ambiently effective, but it always seemed to disappear weirdly at the moments that felt like they should be underscored – perhaps that’s intentional? I don’t know, but it was distracting.
While watching the film I would’ve gladly excised a few subplot/supporting characters to streamline it, but I’ve actually warmed to the complexity a bit more as I’ve mulled it over, ranked it, and written about it. I’ll leave my ranking alone for now, but it’s more likely to go up over time than down.
Stats and stuff…
written and directed by Michael Mann
starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Amy Brenneman, Ashley Judd, Ted Levine, Dennis Haysbert, Natalie Portman
I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how Heat entered my chart:
Heat beat Thirteen Days
Heat beat Yellow Submarine
Heat lost to Full Metal Jacket
Heat lost to Murder, My Sweet
Heat lost to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)
Heat lost to eXistenZ
Heat lost to Tangled
Heat beat The Descendants
Heat lost to Shadow Magic
Heat beat Why We Fight: Prelude to War
Heat beat The Magnificent Seven
Heat beat People on Sunday
Final ranking: #874 out of 3575 films on my chart (76th percentile)
It is now my #2 Michael Mann film, my #6 Robert De Niro film, my #4 Al Pacino film, my #15 police detective film, and my #12 film of 1995.
Heat was recommended by Nigel Druitt, a friend from the Flickcharters Group on Facebook.
A few quotes…
Vincent Hanna: I say what I mean, and I do what I say.
Vincent Hanna: My life’s a disaster zone. I got a stepdaughter so fucked up because her real father’s this large-type asshole. I got a wife, we’re passing each other on the down-slope of a marriage – my third – because I spend all my time chasing guys like you around the block. That’s my life.
Neil McCauley: A guy told me one time, “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.”
Neil McCauley: [to Vincent] I do what I do best, I take scores. You do what you do best, try to stop guys like me.
[speaking on the phone]
Roger Van Zant: What are you doing?
Neil McCauley: What am I doing? I’m talking to an empty telephone.
Roger Van Zant: I don’t understand.
Neil McCauley: ‘Cause there is a dead man on the other end of this fuckin’ line.
Chris Shiherlis: [to Neil, about his wife] For me the sun rises and sets with her, man.
Justine Hanna: [to Vincent] You don’t live with me, you live among the remains of dead people. You sift through the detritus, you read the terrain, you search for signs of passing, for the scent of your prey, and then you hunt them down. That’s the only thing you’re committed to. The rest is the mess you leave as you pass through.
A few more screenshots…