Friday, May 21, 2021

Heat (1995)

USA, 170 minutes
Director/writer: Michael Mann
Photography: Dante Spinotti
Music: Elliot Goldenthal
Editors: Pasquale Buba, William Goldenberg, Dov Hoenig, Tom Rolf
Cast: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Amy Brenneman, Ashley Judd, Wes Studi, Natalie Portman, Dennis Haysbert, Hank Azaria, Danny Trejo, Henry Rollins, Tone Loc

I wasn't too surprised when Heat fell flat for me the last time I looked. I've always had mixed feelings about all its main points—jumbo-sized heist movie starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, written and directed by Michael Mann. De Niro and Pacino are great players, of course, even when they're not trying very hard, but they're better when they're trying. Are they trying here? Not in the good way. Several reviewers have noted that Pacino is shouting a lot again. De Niro retires into his soft-spoken cerebral manner like the accountant with funny glasses in Casino. We never forget his explosiveness but that's because we've seen it in all those other movies.

For his part, director and writer Michael Mann is as committed to the visuals as ever, with twinkling Los Angeles vistas providing magnificent backdrop for this tired old story of cops and robbers and how they are more alike than different, etc. The robbers, headed by De Niro, take down Big Scores that require meticulous planning. The cops, headed by Pacino, work a special detail dedicated to chasing down those who would commit Big Scores (with the budget to support the effort). It's all kind of like a Man From U.N.C.L.E. TV episode with extraordinarily impressive production values. Cinematic crimes like this require a lot of showing and much less telling, particularly in the planning stages. Mann's team of four editors, and no doubt Mann himself riding along with them, work out a lot of ways to cut these capers as they go down. They are often kinetically vivid and propulsive with spasms of violence and lots of shoot-'em-ups. But in this movie, which might have also have been called Long, they start to look alike by the time we arrive at the third hour.

I'm not saying it's bad but my thought was that Heat may require special conditions. For example, a bigger screen than the best screen in my home (my computer monitor) might have helped. I imagined the best utility of Heat as an option for family get-togethers. It would be perfect at the holidays. Put it on your big screen in your favorite TV room with popcorn and all that, with the theater seats if you've got 'em. It will likely settle everyone down for a few hours and get them out of the way for others in the kitchen or whatever. It can single-handedly take out the rest of the day if you put Heat on after dinner.

For those watching in their holiday gravy and pie stupor, Heat is a long, slow, dreamy time of it, punctuated by action. It's no doubt better than talking to relatives. But I'm bound to say other pictures fill this function just as well or better: the Back to the Future trilogy, Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy, every minute you can put your hands on of The Godfather and permutations, maybe even the Jurassic Park trilogy (or whatever number it's up to now). Maybe Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight movies. You get the idea. By these standards, Heat is a quickie. Or here's an idea. Double feature: Heat and The Irishman. De Niro and Pacino are much older in the latter but in many ways playing the same roles, De Niro smoldering quiet, Pacino shouting a lot. Spend the seven hours watching them back to back while others bicker in the kitchen or living room. Discuss the similarities and differences with coffee.

The center of Heat truly is the heist movie compressed into gemlike abstraction. Nolan must have studied it closely for his own epic heist sequence in The Dark Knight. My cool response to Heat is mostly based on my disinclination for heist and/or caper movies, which is aggravated by the imposing length. But let's entertain the idea for a moment of the marketing materials, that this movie is a meeting of the titans in De Niro and Pacino. Well, yes, if you are a big fan of them beyond their various and varying movie performances, that is as celebrities, then Heat could well be a thrill and perhaps even worth seeing again and again. As De Niro says tersely in the monumental showdown on the playground at the coffee shop here, as the two of them casually swap philosophies and share the pains of their lot in life, "It is what it is."

I guess that's why I suggest the double feature with The Irishman—somewhat facetiously, but I think Heat would have a lot less cachet if it starred anyone other than De Niro and Pacino. You can keep Mann directing and writing. The aggregated critical opinion at They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?, by the way, is that this is not only Mann's best, it's the only title of his appearing in that top 1,000 at all. Hmm, I think that's going too far. In Mann's best movies by my lights (The Insider and Miami Vice [the 2006 movie]) the stars are beside the point. The Insider is more of a thriller and Miami Vice is more like the most expensive action TV show ever made (which TV show? The Man From U.N.C.L.E., of course). Heat is merely a highly elaborated heist picture with '70s movie stars attempting to reprise their cool. You're better off looking at Taxi Driver or Dog Day Afternoon for the eleventy-billionth time. Make it a double feature.

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