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!"


  1. It has been a while since I have seen Heat from beginning to end. Several times in the last few months I happened to catch it right at the shootout sequence. I did not get to finish the movie so my memory of it is not as fresh as yours.

    I know you have a Man Crush on Al Pacino and it is perfectly understandable when he is in the right role. He was excellent in Heat as was DeNiro. It seems a little strange though that you would dismiss Godfather 2 as a co-starring vehicle, when the one real sequence they have together in this movie is pretty short. I guess It isn't the scene so much that makes their presence together so important, it is the dynamic. They are aware of each other, their actions are influenced by the anticipation of the other in their chess game of crime.

    The shootout itself unfortunately did reflect the way crime could play out in the city. You may be aware that just a couple of years after the movie came out, we had two bank robbers with automatic weapons do the same thing, try to shoot their way out of being caught. It was surreal watching it play out much like the movie had.

    There is a long line of L.A. movies that can give you a feeling for the city that is pretty authentic. The West side dominates because there is so much of the entertainment business located there and they don't think anything happens east of Figueroa or south of Jefferson except crime. As far as they are concerned, the Valley ends at Encino. If we stick strictly to crime based Dramas, Chinatown, To Live and Die in L.A., Collateral, Devil in a Blue Dress, Wonderland, Get Shorty,L.A. Confidential, Twilight (Paul Newman not sparkly vampires) and Even the Lethal Weapon series, give a nice sense of how divergent the city is. There is a Downtown, but it is not the center of commerce and business and politics that "Downtown" represents in so many other cities. Let's face it, when you can drive fifty miles straight in one direction and still be in the same city, the idea that it is all one place seems silly.

    I don't think you did "Boogie Nights" earlier in your blog. For me, it was exactly what the city felt like at that time and out in the Valley. There was a weird vibe, with danger and excitement and a lot of stuff you should wash off of yourself as soon as possible. My Favorite "L.A. Vibe" movie is "Into the Night". You get a tour of the town, the different lifestyles, the nightlife and some of the politics.

    I'll have to watch Heat soon to see the thing you are talking about. I saw "Collateral" not to long ago and Mann did a very similar think with the L.A. environment.

  2. Clearly, Michael Mann has a strong sense of his city of Los Angeles much like Woody Allen for New York City and John Hughes for Chicago.