“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.”
This two-hour and 50 minute crime saga succeeds on a high level due to an amazingly deep cast and an incredible filmmaking team led by Michael Mann. Set and filmed exclusively on-location in the Los Angeles area, Heat is a modern classic that defines the crime film genre with amazing action and authentic drama.
DeNiro plays Neil McCauley, the “papa bear” of this professional crime team, especially to Val Kilmer’s character, Chris Shiherlis. Chris’s relationship with his wife Charlene, played by Ashley Judd, is strained from gambling and general mismanagement of his hard-earned, err… stolen money. Al Pacino also headlines as Lt. Vincent Hanna, a Marine Corps veteran along with Neil. “I say what I mean, and I do what I say,” says Vincent.
Their stature and credibility back up their lead status. “I do what I do best, I take scores. You do what you do best, try to stop guys like me,” Neil replies to Vincent in their famous diner “showdown” sequence where they discuss their personal lives, motivations and even dreams. Their causes and considerable skills are well-defined, but their personal lives and emotional development suffers. Their complexity also reflects in the remaining stellar cast as audiences find the clear line between “good” and “bad” is not so easily drawn in this realistic experience.
Diane Venora plays Justine Hanna, Vincent’s long-suffering wife while Neil begins a relationship with a local woman named Eady, played by Amy Brenneman (TV’s Judging Amy). “I’m alone. I am not lonely,” Neil replies to Eady who prods about his profession.
Jon Voight stars as Nate, Neil’s primary source, along with fellow collaborators like Michael Cheritto, played by Tom Sizemore. “Well ya know, for me, the action is the juice,” he says. Others in Neil’s crew include Donald Breedan, played by Dennis Haysbert, Trejo, played by Danny Trejo, and Waingro, well played by Kevin Gage (G.I. Jane, The ‘Burbs).
Supporting characters on the law enforcement side Detective Sgt. Drucker, played by Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump), Detective Sammy Casals, played by Wes Studi (Hostiles, The Last of the Mohicans), and Detective Mike Bosko, played by Ted Levine (Silence of the Lambs).
The stellar cast roll keeps on with William Fichtner (Elysium) as money launderer Roger Van Zant, Natalie Portman in her second feature film role as Vincent’s stepdaughter Lauren Gustafson, Hank Azaria (Birdcage) as Alan Marciano, Henry Rollins as Hugh Benny and Xander Berkeley as Ralph.
These amazing portrayals echo the anchoring realism. These characters don’t have stereotypical behaviors. Their actions and motivations are organic, which allows the plot to grow into a satisfying, deep experience.
Mann (Collateral, The Insider) directs and writes the screenplay. Mann’s 1989 crime thriller L.A. Takedown was an unsuccessful TV pilot turned stand-alone TV film that ultimately provided the base for Heat.
The familiar lawman vs. lawless set-up leads to predictable (and inevitable) showdowns, but the character development/relationships, varied scenarios and kinetic filmmaking is anything but. Cinematographer Dante Spinotti draws shadows and lighting to highlight the characters and their actions as this masterpiece required no less than four editors (Pasquale Buba, William Goldenberg, Dov Hoenig and Tom Rolf). The only noticeable flaw is an awkward sound edit as Vincent interrogates a local street snitch. Watch the snitch’s mouth as he says the dialogue “I swear…tonight… is the best I can do.”
The slightly somber yet engaging emotional mode enhances with the excellent music score from composer Elliot Goldenthal (Terminator 2: JudgmentDay) with key works from Moby and William Orbit that create memorable moments.
Mann shows great film skills throughout this wonderous, yet tragic film especially in an exterior sequence in an airport field that must have been a logistical nightmare. Highly recommended (**** out of four stars) and rated R for violence and language. It’s amazing this film garnered no Oscar nominations…or even a Golden Globe. It’s stood the test of time well. Be sure to get the recently released Definitive Edition that includes a great interview feature with another master filmmaker Christopher Nolan.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler