Wednesday, July 18, 2012
(December 1995, U.S.)
One of the disappointing things about doing a little extra research on a film I already think I know pretty well is that I sometimes find out that the film in question is actually a remake. As it turns out, Michael Mann's HEAT is actually a remake of a made-for-television film that he made in 1989 call L.A. TAKEDOWN. Well, I never saw it or even heard of it 'till now, so what say we just close our eyes and ears and pretend for pure convenient pleasure that HEAT is the great, original crime thriller that it comes off as.
Just the mere mention of the great Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro starring in a film together is all I need to hear to get my blood running! Sure, they were in THE GODFATHER-PART II together, but never actually shared any scenes because they played different characters of different time periods. Because they're playing on the two opposides of the law this time, Al Pacino playing Los Angeles PD Lieutenant Vincent Hanna and Robert DeNiro playing career criminal Neil McCauley, the two are destined not to have much screen time together. This isn't as disappointing as you might think because the two of them give such powerful, riveting individual performances on their own. When the two of them do finally come together at opposite ends of a coffee shop table, it's such a thrill to see them together that what they're actually saying to each other becomes nearly irrelevant. Mind you, this kind of passion can only come from your individual tastes and perceptions of both fine actors.
The movie poster tagline for HEAT calls it "A Los Angeles Crime Saga". I mention this because Michael Mann's direction makes the city of L.A. itself a huge part of the story. If you're an outsider to that famous city (as I am), you can actually feel its glamour, it's pressure and its impact on those who suffer to keep it safe and those who take pleasure in robbing from it. It's one of the few films that I feel truly captures the essence of Los Angeles without being one of those cheesy films depicting Hollywood or one of those raw films of South Central L.A. that were popular in the early 1990s. HEAT is an action film, of course, but more than that, it's a film with dialogue that's complex and intense enough to allow the characters (both cops and criminals) to say what they're thinking and to act on what they say. In other words, they're not necessarily trapped with traditional cliches of action moviemaking and that's good.
As expected with any film of this sort, there is much violence. However, the specific detailed attention that's paid to the war zone shoot-out that takes place in the street after the big bank robbery has gone wrong is, without question, one of the best sequences of the film (or any crime film, for that matter). From the moment the robbery begins and it's moving along to the steady pulse of Elliot Goldenthal's intense soundtrack, you can just feel that something is inevitably going to go very, very bad. From the moment Val Kilmer is about to get into the getaway car and his face changes from victory to violence, his machine gun is off and running and we're in the shitstorm of a lifetime! These are important details one pays attention to when either analyzing a scene or just trying to enjoy it a little more than the next guy. That gun battle, by the way, is probably the LOUDEST one I've ever heard on screen in my life. I recall seeing HEAT just days after it opened at a multiplex in New York City that featured an awesome Dolby sound system. I actually had to insulate my ears for a short time during that gun battle. Yes, it was that incredible! Specific circumstances actually had me seeing HEAT again the very next day at a different theater with different people. It was a pleasure still!
HEAT, in my opinion, was not only one of the best films of 1995, but the best crime thriller I've seen since THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971).
Favorite line or dialogue (not an easy task because just about every word that comes out of Al Pacino's mouth is classic! And despite the fact that the coffee shop scene with Pacino and DeNiro has much to offer, here's what I eventually chose:)
Vincent Hanna: "I'm angry. I'm very angry, Ralph. You know, you can ball my wife if she wants you to. You can lounge around here on her sofa, in her ex-husband's dead-tech, post-modernistic bullshit house if you want to. But you do NOT get to watch my fucking television set!"