“A Los Angeles Crime Saga”
Director: Michael Mann
Cast: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer
Synopsis: A group of professional bank robbers start to feel the heat from police when they unknowingly leave a clue at their latest heist.
Many people felt a little cheated when Heat was released and they realised that Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, two giants of the screen, didn’t actually share any screen time together. They are shown having a conversation over coffee in a cafe, but the use of reverse shots disguised the fact that both men were never actually sat at the table at the same time. They shouldn’t have felt short-changed, because both men deliver memorable performances (even though Pacino was at that point in his career when he was in the process of tipping over into self-parody), and director Michael Mann’s screenplay, based on the real-life confrontation between the movie’s adviser Chuck Adamson and the real Neil McCauley, is tight and economical, despite running to nearly three hours. Anyway, 13 years later Righteous Kill showed that rubbing two legends together doesn’t always produce sparks…
Pacino is Lieutenant Vince Hanna, a career cop whose third marriage, to Justine (Diane Venora), is on the slippery slope because of his devotion to his job. When three security guards are killed during the theft of hundreds of millions in bearer bonds from an armoured truck, Hannah is assigned to the case. Using his informers, He eventually learns that one of the members of the gang is a career villain named Michael Cheritto (Tom Sizemore) and, through Cheritto, quickly traces the rest of the gang, although the identity of its leader is unknown to the LAPD.
The enigmatic leader is Neil McAuley, another professional criminal, who adheres to the credo that you “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.” However, this discipline is tested when he begins a relationship with Eady (Amy Brenneman). Following the robbery, Neil is offered a lucrative job robbing a city bank which he accepts on behalf of the gang. However, the planning for the job is temporarily halted when they realise that the police are tailing them. Against his better judgment, Neil decides to go ahead with the job anyway, partly because of the financial and marital difficulties of his partner, Chris (Val Kilmer). However, Waingro (Kevin Gage), the criminal responsible for the murder of the security guards in the previous robbery who was lucky to escape with his life for the blunder, informs on them as the robbery is under way, setting up a violent showdown between McCauley and Hannah.
Heat is a remake of Mann’s 1989 TV movie L. A. Takedown, which is little more than half the length of its remake. It’s a fair bet that the original movie devoted a lot less time to the domestic sub-plots which play a prominent part in Heat, and which, in all honesty, add little to the movie. Hannah’s domestic tribulations, in particular, are poorly handled, with his wife’s sudden promiscuity failing to convince for one moment. Not that neglected women don’t find attention outside of a failing marriage, but her expressed dissatisfaction with Hannah’s prolonged absences never really provides any clues to the fact that she’s planning on sleeping with another man — who appears only in the scene in which Hannah discovers his wife’s infidelity. The fact that it seems she wanted to be discovered to engineer a confrontation is equally difficult to swallow. Neil’s burgeoning relationship with Eady is equally sketchy, and he betrays a remarkable naivety when he assumes she will be happy to go on the run with him when his secret life is exposed.
Mann’s on surer ground when he focuses on the cat-and-mouse games of Hannah and McCauley, and when he sticks to that aspect of the story the movie flies. The planning and execution of the robbery is tautly plotted, and the shootout between cops and robbers is unrivalled in terms of both visceral excitement and technical excellence. Mann is careful never to judge his characters, choosing instead to concentrate on why they choose the lives they lead and recording how they go about ensuring they are as good as they can be at them. It’s all captured in Mann’s trademark lush visual style and enhanced by pitch-perfect performances from a talented cast. De Niro probably steals it from Pacino, in a showier role that nevertheless doesn’t really stretch him, while Val Kilmer provides able support in a secondary role.
One observation that isn’t intended as a criticism of Heat is the way in which hi-tech thrillers age so quickly and so badly. In one scene, De Niro discusses the information available regarding the bank they are to knock over and the guy bankrolling the job reels off a load of complicated sounding techno-speak, which is fine. But the whole illusion is sort of shattered when he then consults a tall pile of music-ruled printer paper which, in the high-tech 21st Century, looks about as technologically advanced as an abacus…
(Reviewed 11th August 2012)