Heat

Heat

*****

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

Al Pacino. Robert De Niro. Two cinema icons. Living legends. Sharing screen-time for the first time (they both starred in The Godfather: Part II but were never in a scene together), Heat was always going to attract attention. However, though their collaboration is obviously worth celebration, Michael Mann’s cops and robbers opus is brilliant in its own right, a crime epic filled with cool intelligence, endless style and detail-filled realism.

A big-budget reworking of his late Eighties TV flick LA Takedown, Mann's Los Angeles-set heist thriller focuses on Vincent Hanna (Pacino), a dedicated cop with a messy home life, and Neil McCauley (De Niro), a disciplined career thief who lives by a strict no-attachments code. Both intensely devoted to what they do, their paths collide when Vincent gets wind of a major job that McCauley and his crew are about to attempt.

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While impatient Bruckheimer-loving viewers may find the near three-hour runtime, featuring long stretches without action, boring and/or slow, Mann’s film is a stone-cold masterpiece. Although there are only a few set pieces, they are brutally realistic, particularly a spectacular bank shootout, shot in real-time with eardrum-piercing sound and put-you-in-the-action camerawork, which is among the best action scenes captured on film.

In between the bangs, it can get a touch dry at times. But yet, the Chicago-born writer-director is merely giving depth to the players as he arranges them on the board; each quiet and moody exchange breathing life into characters who’d be nothing more than canon-fodder in any other actioner. Jon Voight’s fixit man, William Fichtner’s slimy businessman, Denis Haysbert’s trying-to-reform con… these are the sorts of faces (not even mentioning Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd and a host of others) populating the background. Though Tom Sizemore is well-cast as one of Neal’s gang, it’s Val Kilmer who provides the best support as an edgy, ponytailed marksman.

But never mind all them, you just want to know about Al and Bobby, right? Based on real-life characters relayed to Mann by his cop buddies, the pair are different sides of the same dedicated coin, caught in a game of cat-and-mouse. Manhunter Hanna is all black threads and Will Graham-like ability to understand his foe. Pacino plays it like the movie itself - quiet, quiet, quiet then roaring out of nowhere: "Don't waste my MOTHER-FUCKING TIME!" Mastermind McCauley is ultra-disciplined and nearly always in control of his emotions, De Niro giving a more subtle turn full of cool menace.

Still, we’re forgetting about someone very important to the picture… Mann himself. Wielding his trademark research-heavy detail (sending the cast to visit convicted robbers in prison) and near-perfect marriage of music with imagery (see Vincent cruising Miami Vice-like along an endless freeway to Moby), this is pure Mann. Filmed across 65 separate actual locations, the neon-lit warm-night LA he crafts is as beautiful as it is atmospheric.

Arguably the last time Pacino and De Niro were great, Michael Mann at the top of his game... every now a great crime movie comes along - and brother, this is one of them.

Reviewed on: 30 Aug 2011
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A cop and a career thief end up on a collision course.
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