Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) has something in mind, one of his perfectly executed schemes to make himself and his comrades a great deal of money. However, he is not going to go about it legally, for he is a professional thief with a strong line in heists, and as he borrows an ambulance from this Los Angeles hospital for his own personal use, he feels his plan has come together as long as the gang he has assembled stick to it. Meanwhile, the sort of cop who makes it their mission to track down men like Neil is starting his day: Lieutenant Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), who is on his third marriage and no matter that he has been very affectionate with his wife Justine (Diane Venora), the pressures of his job will soon assert themselves...
Heat, for many of his fans, is director Michael Mann's masterpiece, precisely the right way to deliver an intelligent and propulsive, not to mention epic, crime movie that did for thrillers what The Godfather did for Mob sagas. It was an apt comparison, for he brought together those two titans of the Italian-American acting scene in Pacino and De Niro, and in turn their followers were salivating at the prospect of watching them unite in one movie, only unlike in The Godfather Part II, they would actually share scenes. Fair enough, but when you watched it, their characters' battle of wits was revealed to be largely in separate scenes, and even when they were together in the middle and at the end they hardly even shared the same frame, never mind conversed with one another.
Don't worry about that, you might think, Mann was well aware what he was doing in keeping them apart, as it allowed each thespian to bring their experience to bear on their parts without being overshadowed or distracted by the other, and at around three hours long, you had plenty of opportunity to enjoy watching them make mincemeat of the greatest supporting cast nineties Hollywood could buy. Yet there was a flaw in that too when Pacino was reduced to falling back on his tics to spice up a role that had more quantity in terms of screen time than quality in terms of giving him very much variety to deliver. At least he was entertaining, De Niro had it worse, a terminally bland character whose defining trait was his time limit with regard to pissing off.
McCauley is a master criminal, fair enough, but that sort of thing could be just as well conveyed in, well, in a television movie which Heat was more or less a remake of (Mann's L.A. Takedown from a few years before) and there was little to suggest why we should be spending so much effort on people who were so poorly conceived. But the answer to that was obvious: with this director, you just knew the movie was going to look great (until he discovered digital photography in the following century), and so it was, with Los Angeles lovingly captured in sleek perfection in contrast to the unlovely behaviour the story concerned itself with. In fact, the imagery overpowered it all until you were left thinking you had seen something more accomplished than you really had.
Only one sequence fought back against the smothering slickness of the visuals, and that wasn't the coffee shop chat between the leads, which never went anywhere very much, it was the superb action setpiece as McCauley and his team try to pull off the bank heist that is collapsing around their ears, fantastically propulsive filmmaking that lifted the rest of the talk-heavy scenes around it. On the other hand, its observations on the difference between the criminal and the cop were facile, giving them much the same problems to underline they were two sides of the same coin, or Hanna and McCauley as the best in their business were at any rate. Worst aspect of that? The women here are entirely an issue the men could do without, they just hold them back, as if Mann's script was written after attending a hacky stand-up show whose message was "Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em, am I right, guys?!" This mellows in the last act, but the damage was done, and with the men crafted as cardboard types, it was the superficial gloss you took away from Heat. Music by Elliot Goldenthal.
American writer/director whose flashy, dramatic style has made for considerable commerical success on the big and small screen. After writing for television during the late 70s, he made his debut with the thriller Thief. The Keep was a failed horror adaptation, but Mann's TV cop show Miami Vice was a massive international success, while 1986's Manhunter, based on Thomas Harris's Red Dragon, was one of the decade's best thrillers.
Last of the Mohicans was a rip-roaring period adventure, Heat a dynamic if overlong cops 'n' robbers story, and The Insider a gripping real-life conspiracy thriller. 2002's Ali, Mann's much-touted biography of the legendary boxer, was a bit of an anti-climax, but as ever, stylishly rendered. Mann's next film was the thriller Collateral, starring Tom Cruise as a ruthless contract killer, and his big screen updating of Miami Vice divided opinion, as did his vintage gangster recreation Public Enemies. His cyber-thriller Blackhat was a resounding flop.