Wednesday, May 18, 2016

HEAT (1995) - ****½

Rated R for violence and language
Running time: 170 min.
Release date: December 15, 1995

There is a scene in the middle section of Heat, where the two primary characters sit across from each other in a busy coffee shop. While the rest of the world buzzes around them, the two of them make a quick connection with each other. Each one opens up to the other about their recurring dream. Dreams are something personal, but each man feels that they can share this with the other, even though, in their waking lives, they are adversaries. There is a comfort level between them because each one knows what the other represents to himself.

Al Pacino is Lt. Vincent Hanna of the LAPD. Pacino has made a career out of world-weary characters and his performance in this role is no exception to that path. Hanna is so good at what he does but it always comes at a price. In his personal life, he is on his third marriage, which is about to come to an end. His wife, Justine (Diane Venora), accuses him of living among the remains of dead bodies. Vincent is in control of his work, but his home is chaotic. Robert DeNiro is Neil McAuley, mastermind of many big scores. He works with a crew that includes Chris (Val Kilmer) and Michael (Tom Sizemore). McAuley is also in control of his work; he also is in control of the private lives of his people. When he discovers that Chris' wife, Charlene (Ashley Judd), is cheating on him, he busts into her motel room and orders her to go back home and work it out with Chris, which she does.

McAuley has a credo he lives by: never get involved in something you can't walk away from in 30 seconds flat. He offers this advice to Chris, whose wife and son mean a lot more to him than McAuley would like. McAuley's credo is put to the test, however, when he meets Eady (Amy Brenneman). She sits next to him in a diner and breaks the ice by asking him questions, which make him bristle at first, but then when he sees her genuine interest, he warms up to her and they hit it off immediately. There is a scene where McAuley and his crew are at dinner with their families, and McAuley realizes that he needs Eady more than he thought. He makes plans to run away to New Zealand with her; right after one more big score.

Along with the central focus of the film, which is the delicate balance between work and love, we have the cops and robbers action. McAuley and his crew are working on a bank that could haul them twelve million dollars, while Hanna and his crew go through the process of finding these guys and tailing them. Another scene in the film has McAuley and his team meeting at an industrial site, with the police watching and trying to listen to every word. When McAuley leaves, the cops come in and try to determine what they were planning. Hanna looks around, scans the environment and realizes that it was just an attempt to sniff out the cops. When Hanna sees that he is up against a true pro, the glee on his face is contagious. We want to see good cops against good criminals just as much as he does.

The character depth here is a tribute to the screenplay by Michael Mann, who also directed. There are so many levels to DeNiro's character: the control aspect, the loneliness, the respect he feels for Hanna. He also doesn't mind taking some time out for revenge as he doesn't deal with double-crosses very well. Pacino's Vincent Hanna enjoys the chase even at the expense of everything else. When his wife starts to distance herself from him, he responds with the only thing he knows how to do: going back to work. Mann has done an excellent job bringing these levels of character out. The entire cast is filled with good performances with Val Kilmer's Chris as a man who wants to make a life for his family but can't seem to leave his vices behind, and Dennis Haysbert as a parolee who has trouble adjusting to his life on the outside.

The film is almost three hours long, but it's briskly paced. There is some filler in the plot that padded the running time, and a case could be made that the film could have been shortened. That is the only drawback to this film. Technically, the film is probably Mann's best. There is a contrast between the hard, industrial daylight of Los Angeles and the amazing city lights at night, accompanied by an atmospheric score that helped set the tone. There is a major scene in the film depicting a shootout between the police and the criminals. It is realistically paced and is one of the best shootout scenes you will ever see. The closing scene is the most poignant one of the film, depicting two men linked together in a world that they chose to live in. Mann decides to give the two a moment alone, rather than intrude. Michael Mann is just like his characters in this film: he is in control and has laid out his plan down to every minute detail.


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