Duke & The Movies

Film Criticism


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Written by: Sam Fragoso on July 28, 2011

July 28, 2011 | 5 comments | Featured, Old Format


* Note: This film is part of the 365 film guide I’m completing – the full list is on the tab bar above.

Michael Mann’s nearly three hour epic is grand in scale, but lacking in emotion. Cop procedurals typically induce strong feelings for the characters involved. It’s not until the final 45 minutes of the picture – which is masterful – that you start to understand, perhaps even sympathize for a couple of these thieves.

In fact the latter of the picture is everything Heat wants to be: compelling, emotionally driven, and enthralling. Instead what comes before the third act is equal measures sluggish and cliched.

The film follows the lives of two men on opposite sides of the law – Hanna played by Al Pacino is a detective and Neil played by Robert De Niro is a thief. After a large robbery, Hanna (who is the sure thing type cop) is assigned to investigate the scene to see who is responsible and when and where they can catch these criminals. But Neil is no ordinary crook. He’s smart and lays out meticulous operations for him and his team – it’s not wonder why they’ve never been caught.

Heat explores the issue at heart here: the reluctancy to leave what we know. In many ways the two – both cop and criminal – need each other. They thrive off one another’s actions and mistakes. They work all day and night to catch and avoid each other – eventually rounding out in one big circle.

The two meet in the film. It’s undoubtedly the best scene in the picture: subtle, moving, and full of nuance. Both on opposite ends of the law, sit across from one another at a coffee shop. They chat about life and their respected duties. And then, the conversation ends appropriately when both individuals agree that what they do, is the only thing they can and will do.

This review is an entry to LAMB: Director of the Month

As humans we stay close to what we know: it’s definite and safe. To venture is to risk leaving our comfort zone. We know, deep down, that both Niel and Hanna won’t quit until one of them is dead: it’s the sad truth.

However, I’m touching on a different aspect of the film. What Heat is known for is that famous and bombastic action sequence in the middle of the city. The scene is choreographed with expertise by Mann. Even as film transpires and the years pass, that scene so meticulous and brilliant, will always be remembered.

Heat is a touchstone in the Police procedurals – the acting is top-of-the-line and Mann’s story is compelling. Despite having some underwritten characters (every female in the picture) and a perplexing (not to mention sluggish) opening hour, Mann should (and is by many) be acknowledged for his work.

With every shot beautifully rendered and a score that builds up tension and emotion brilliantly, Heat contains spurts of greatness. I cherish the subtleties, though far and few, in the picture. The underlining  conflicts between the two leads is, make no mistake, the driving force here. But it calls into question: With a trim in run time, could Heat be that legendary classic everyone makes it out to be? One can always imagine the possibilities.

Rating: ★★★☆


Heat (1995)

Cast: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer

Director: Michael Mann

Writer: Michael Mann

Runtime: 171 minutes

Genre: action, thriller, drama

Trailer Heat


There are 5 comments for this post.

  1. Andrew Buckle on June 19, 2011 8:26 am

    Gotta disagree a little with you here. Heat is a definite 4/4.

    Compare Heat and The Town, a film that resembles Heat. Mann’s film is better in every way.

    Remembered for one of the best shootouts in history, Heat also features a compelling rivalry between Pacino and De Niro, two of the greatest actors of all time. The scope of the films depth in examining its characters (their private lives) is also pretty impressive.

    I, personally, don’t find it overlong, and I think balancing so many characters and making them all essential to the story, is very well done. I love this film.

    Great observations again my friend.

  2. Duke on June 19, 2011 8:30 am

    I pointed out practically every point you made. The last hour of the picture is 4/4 – but the first hour drags the whole film down.

  3. Dan O. on June 19, 2011 9:06 am

    It’s not the classic everybody makes it out to be, but De Niro and Pacino are just about perfect in this film and that diner scene is just amazing. Great Review Sam!

  4. Duke on June 19, 2011 12:35 pm

    They truly are perfect.

    Thanks for reading Dan!

  5. Tyler on September 28, 2011 9:55 pm

    I had to see HEAT twice before I really appreciated it. I bought the DVD years ago but I haven’t watched it in a while. I agree that it is flawed, but the action sequences are masterful and like you said, the final hour is brilliant. In general, a fantastic achievement.

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