johnlink ranks HEAT (1995)

It is hard to imagine that HEAT is a twenty year old movie. This has a young long-haired Val Kilmer, a 14-year-old Natalie Portman, and in-their-prime performances by Pacino and De Niro. This was, of course, marketed as the first Pacino/De Niro vehicle criptince they appeared (in different eras) in the second GODFATHER film. There was quite a bit of hype when this came out, though it is one of those movies which doesn’t seem to be held in the same reverence of some of the other crime films of the era. But I’m a Michael Mann sucker, and it has been too long since I watched this.


I watched HEAT (1995) on 10.16.15. It was probably my fifth viewing of the film, and my first in nearly ten years.

After a few brief scenes of character development, the opening battle sequence in HEAT is clean and crisp. A team of baddies, led by Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) have already prepped their vehicles and ballistics in the snippets leading up to the sequence. They attack an armored vehicle and everything goes alright, except for a new team member who decides to pop one of the guards. McCauley decides that, rather to be safe than sorry, his team better eliminate the other guards. He is a calculated thief. He doesn’t want to kill, he wants to get out clean. But he will do what he has to in order to survive another day.

His counterpart is Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino). He is as good of a detective as McCauley is a thief. He reads the crime scene to a tee, able to diagnose all that went down without a moment’s hesitation. His attention to detail is equal to McCauley’s. They make quite the foils; aided, of course, by the casting.

McCauley lives in a place with a beautiful view and virtually no stuff. He is not about things. He is about the jobs. His number one man is Chris (Val Kilmer), who has a wife (Ashley Judd) nagging about his criminal enterprising. We sense the breaks in the armor there well before it happens, but that relationship transcends what we anticipate its expectations.

This movie is about crime, about slow burns, about hard work (on both sides of the law). It could be labeled a cat-and-mouse thriller. A caper flick. A neo-noir. A suspense film about pride. An action movie. It deftly maneuvers the tropes of these genres thanks to a smart script filled with memorable lines (“For me, the action is the juice”)and smart choices. Consider how McCauley starts by killing a man he doesn’t need to, moves towards killing by necessity, and finishes by killing some truly bad people. The movie begins with him as antagonist, and slowly moves that line towards the center. When the final encounter occurs, we don’t see he and Hanna as all that different. It helps the script that De Niro and Pacino each give a performance among their career bests, and that this is a film which boasts a bunch of awesome actors.

Look at the cast list in the names tagged on this article. This is a 20 year old movie with a veritable who’s who of actors. Some are in their primes here. Pacino, De Niro, Kilmer, Voight, Judd. Some of these folks – Portman, Piven, Haysbert, Trejo – didn’t have the name recognition they soon would. But the acting is as solid as you might expect it to be, though Judd unfortunately stands out as someone who doesn’t feel like she fits the role until more than halfway through. Lots of the cameos still work, especially since they are actors (Berkeley, Azaria, Tone Loc) trying to make a mark, rather than merely cashing a pay check.


This is a movie about relationships. Hanna has a relationship with a divorced woman (Diane Vinora). It’s rocky because he is too honest about how hard his job is. During the course of the movie, McCauley meets a girl, Eady (Amy Brenneman), and the relationship is rocky because he can’t be honest enough about who he is. We learn that McCauley is pragmatic about his relationships though, as he tells Chris “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.” Later, McCauley and Hanna develop their own sort of relationship, a sort of mutual respect, culminating in that famous diner scene where these two actors square off verbally.

This is also a movie about parallels, and maybe it is a movie most about parallels. When Hanna is doing well, McCauley is doing well. When one has dinner with his crew, so does the other. When one has a confrontation with his female companion, so does the other.  When one walks away, so does the other. They are a couple of foils with opposing mirror arcs. They are each other (“All I am, is what I am going after”) and so sometimes those arcs cross, like in a famous diner scene and at the film’s satisfying climax.

This is a solid film which makes solid choices. The score is understated, something which helps a movie from the mid 90s. We aren’t privy to a lot of synth or driving electronic music. Instead, the music sometimes serves as a setup (and in all genres: jazz, rap, rock, etc). When we are given a score, it serves much more as a low pulse, a heartbeat for the scene.

HEAT is a movie with a couple of really great scenes – namely the diner encounter and the post-robbery shoot out – and a whole lot of steady character. It may suffer from a couple of cliches and a moment or two of extreme coincidence, but it is a highly watchable and easily liked genre-bending movie. Director Michael Mann doesn’t tend to do easy, and HEAT is not a simple film as Mann assumes you will keep up with all of the small police-work details and some truly harrowing family drama. But HEAT is absolutely one worth seeing if you have not.




FINAL SCORE: 8.5 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on October 16, 2015.

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