SEPTEMBER 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 9


Review of Michael Mann's "Heat"

David E. Kelley - reigning emperor of television storytelling

Scoop of the Century - CNN's million dollar reporter



Starring Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Ashley Judd. Directed by Michael Mann. Rated R.

BUY IT from


"Heat" is the best $15 you can spend on a DVD.

Warner Brothers was one of the first studios to support DVD in 1997. Warner's launched a discount-line of DVD's this year, mainly dreary $9.95 retail titles. Who wants to see Carl Weathers and Craig T. Nelson battle it out in "Action Jackson" in a never degrading, digital format? Losers, that's who.

"Heat", the 1995 crime epic directed by Michael Mann, hits the $14.99 retail mark and is a steal. You can bag it for $13.99 at this month, and it will be the best investment you can make in a DVD library. Great dialogue, an A-list cast, awesome action scenes, and a great music soundtrack.

Al Pacino is pitted against Robert DeNiro, master policeman after master thief. Yes, we've seen this type of pairing before, but not with this A-list cast and the style of Michael Mann. With a few exceptions like David Fincher, Mann is one of the most visual directors in Hollywood today. His new flick, "The Insider", opens this fall and like the freaks camping out for "Phantom Menace" this past summer, you can count me on skipping out of work that Friday at 11:00 a.m. to catch the noon showing. He is the man. Or Mann as it were.

Pacino plays Vincent Hanna, the driven cop on the trail of DeNiro's Neil McCauley. Pacino acts with a level of intensity almost unmatched in his previous work, save "Serpico" and "Godfather II". Seeing Pacino deviate from the casting decisions he made in "Scent of a Woman" is a positive. Pacino's work since 1995's "Heat" has included "City Hall", "Donnie Brasco", the mind-screwing "Devil's Advocate" and the soon-to-be-released "The Insider". One dud out of four ain't bad. Mann might be coaching Pacino to a better body of work than attempted in his "Frankie and Johnny" period. We should all thank him for that.

DeNiro plays Neil McCauley, and repeats the one-speed acting style that keeps him continuously employed. DeNiro's character is expanded by a not-too-well-developed love interest, which is forced and a little unnatural. DeNiro is perfect for playing against Pacino. It's a pairing many viewers wanted to see, unlike Goldberg and Van Damme in "Universal Soldier 2". Mann scores high with this casting coup.

The underrated Val Kilmer (see "Tombstone" for proof) is DeNiro's partner in crime Chris, and essentially plays a white Ike Turner to his adulterous wife (Ashley Judd). He never hits her, but he loves breaking stuff around the house, getting loaded, and crashing at Neil's furniture-less waterfront pad. Neil and Chris both drive Camaros in this film, showing they know how to steal millions of dollars in cash, but settle on mid-range GM cars to tool around in.

"Heat" also resurrects Jon Voight. Voight owes his return in the theatrical 1990's to Mann, who aged him 15+ years to play McCauley's fencing agent. The Star Trek-like liver spots circulating his face are a nice touch. (Voight's portrayal of the priest/snake hunter in "Anaconda" is possibly the most hilarious of the decade.) In other smaller roles, Henry Rollins and Jeremy Piven are great.

Mann goes to extra lengths to make "Heat" stylish and visually engaging. I'm sure he deliberately picked the pastel green semi to slam into the black and white armored truck. In front of a chop-shop, Hanna exits his jet-black Crown Vic next to a big pile of bright yellow sand, placed there for no other apparent reason than to look cool. You gotta love it. He's a painter with hands that only fit around a camera. Colors are crisp with deep and menacing blacks in the film transfer.

The dual-layer transfer occurs in a natural place (between the coffee shop and OCU office scene) where an audio drop and freezed video seems natural. Kudos for Warner's paying attention to the only annoying facet of 2+ hour flicks on DVD.

Mann has a bit of a nepotism problem exceeded only by Steven Bochco. He recycles Izzy from "Miami Vice" (Martin Ferrero), the serial killer from "Manhunter" (Tom Noonan), the guy who tries to kill off Sheena Easton in season four of "Miami Vice" (Xander Berkeley), Ted Levine from "Crime Story", and the heart-slicin'-and-chompin' Mugwai (Wes Studi) from "Last of the Mohicans". The primary casting mistake is Tone Loc as the requisite snitch providing the needed link between the cops and the robbers. Thankfully his screen time is limited.

The sound in "Heat" is reference quality. Rear-effects are plentiful and high-quality. The soundtrack features heavies like Moby, U2's Passengers, Michael Brook, and Brian Eno. With the exception of violence and profanity, the armored-truck heist, drive-in, and bank heist are prime home-theater demo material. Fire 'em up and piss of the neighbors.

The disc is slim on extras. No director commentary or behind-the-scenes featurette. Three trailers are about it. Still, your $15 is well spent on "Heat".

Mann wrote the film, and did a great job. He has a natural talent for capturing the speech of the street, or at least romanticizing it for the rest of us. Pacino's Vincent utters the best lines. He screams while slamming the card table of an informant, "GIMMIE ALL YA GOT! GIMMIE ALL YA GOT!" That's great writing. Since "Scent of a Woman", Pacino's developed a dialogue style which involves SHOUTING AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS. It works in "Heat", surprisingly. It also worked in "Devil's Advocate", if you think that movie worked at all on some level. It didn't work that well in "City Hall", but he saved the screaming mostly for the eulogies in the funeral scenes.

The acting is superb. When Vincent is waiting in the hospital while awaiting the recovery of his suicidal stepdaughter (played by Natalie Portman), he's beeped with a lead on Vincent. His wife tells him to go to work, and he runs down the hospital stairs like a kid on Christmas morning. His love for policework is evident.

There's a scene about two-thirds of the way through the flick where Neil and Vincent talk to each other in a coffee shop. They don't duke it out, shoot it out, or throw large objects on each other. They do reveal their philosophies. They explain their internal drives. It's unconventional, and a little uncomfortable, but a brave move on Mann's part. When Vincent asks Neil if he commits robberies in order to get caught and to go back to prison he replies, "You see me doin' thrill-seeker liquor store holdups with a "Born To Lose" tattoo on my chest? Right. I am never going back."

This is the essence of "Heat". The coffee shop is not a standard move in a cops vs. robbers screenplay, but the dialogue is real and effective. A lot of people disliked "Heat" because of the coffee shop scene, but you can judge it for yourself.

The most unbelievable scene occurs when Al Pacino, who probably weighs 165 pounds soaking wet, throws weightlifter Henry Rollins through a plate glass window. Rollins can bench a bus, but Pacino does grab him by the hair, possibly inflicting severe follicle damage.

Rent it, buy it, see it. "Heat" is worth your time and money.

DAN SULLIVAN is a staff writer for Renaissance Online Magazine.

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