Heat is not your typical crime thriller. If you've seen Mann's most recent work, the incredible Public Enemies, you'll know that the action, whilst being amazing, plays second fiddle to the atmosphere which Michael Mann endeavours to create and the characters which he makes you understand. So if you're expecting Bay-like explosions or... well... Bay-like character development, script or something within the realm of a Transformers film, best be changing you're thinking now.
Heat follows the story of two men: the cop, Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino in one of his best performances ever) and the thief, Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro in one of HIS best performances). Yes, even though it is historic for bringing these two titans together onscreen for the first time, and a lot of the film is focussed on the characters these two bring to vivid life, Michael Mann, cleverly, keeps these two apart for almost the entire film, bringing them together for the first time in one of cinema's most reknowned scenes; the coffee shop scene. More of that later.
We begin Heat with a cryptic first sequence which is only really understood after the second viewing, which shows De Niro simply walking through a hospital and driving out in an ambulance. Upon the second viewing, Mann's subtly brilliant directing becomes apparent, giving the viewer a real taste of McCauley and how he goes through life, analysing everything; every strange noise and random movement, anything even slightly out of the ordinary. Truly amazing stuff. The rest of the films direction is no less attentive or amazing as Mann creates a bleak yet fascinating, burnished daytime Chicago in which our character's live. It seems as though the scum of the city is just about to burst through but it's kept under a single layer of decency. Mann's precision filming is a fascinating thing to watch, as he captures every moment of the brilliant leads onscreen, drawing the best performance out of the both of them that he can. He lingers lovingly on his actor's faces, framed to perfection and set in a nighttime blue or a daytime darkness, as if you're wearing very light sunglasses while watching the film. Truly brilliant.
The script is beyond any reproach; a perfect level of realism for every character as well as some killer lines. Mann obviously prefers to let his actors extrapolate for themselves what their character might be doing at the time, as most of the time more is understood from a single glance than any line of dialogue the character may utter. That doesn't render it obsolete, however. The film would be average without it. Without the support of this incredible document, De Niro and Pacino would never have made their characters so believeable or layered.
Speaking of those two, they are absolutely amazing. They know their characters inside and out. Nothing about the people they portray is foreign to them, every tick, every movement, every glance, they are completely inhabiting the real-life counterparts at all times. The supporting cast pale comparrison, despite their own strong performances, in particular Amy Brenneman and Val Kilmer who both do extremely well, especially Kilmer who shows that he actually was good, extremely good, he just slipped a little. But these two performers, backed by this brilliant script and coached by this amazing director are the real strength of the film. Not that they carry it on their shoulders, but they take to a stratospheric level.
Great action set pieces abound, just by the way, in particular the shootup in the streets of LA and others such as the first major heist, but Mann's action scenes are of a different breed to todays explosion fests. His action sequences involve the building of tremedous tension, an ever tightening which you fear will never break which is much more riveting than a simple shoot 'em up. Where every move is crucial and real danger is actually felt, these scenes are intensely dramatic as well as being some amazing spectacles.
Heat is a modern American classic crime thriller, the obvious inspiration of films such as The Dark Knight and a must watch for any movie buff, or for someone who just wants to watch an awesome movie.
The coffee shop scene. Of course. The close runner-up is the platinum heist.
You wanna be making moves on the street, don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in thirty seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.