Written and directed by Michael Mann, Heat is the story of a conflict between a LAPD police detective and a career thief as they both deal with their own personal and professional issues with a heist set to take place. Based on a 1989 TV movie directed by Mann called L.A. Takedown, the film is an exploration of two men from different sides of the law as they’re about to embark on a major battle but are also being aware that they’re both approaching the end. Starring Al Pacino, Robert de Niro, Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Amy Brenneman, Ashley Judd, Mykelti Williamson, Wes Studi, Ted Levine, Natalie Portman, Dennis Haysbert, William Fichtner, Danny Trejo, Tom Noonan, Henry Rollins, and Jon Voight. Heat is a riveting yet exhilarating film from Michael Mann.
The film is about a cat-and-mouse chase between a LAPD police detective and a career thief with a loyal heist crew who take part in a major heist following another theft that involved bonds belonging to a money-laundering insurance owner. It is a film that explore two men who only know what to do as they’re set to collide but there is a mutual respect in the fact that they’re men who both have a code and know what to do if they meet face-to-face. Michael Mann’s screenplay is largely straightforward in its narrative yet it is more about the men involved in this cat-and-mouse game where the LAPD detective in Lieutenant Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) and the criminal Neil McCauley (Robert de Niro) are trying to outwit one another but they’re also dealing with issues outside of their line of work with Hanna’s third marriage to Justine (Diane Venora) is crumbling as her daughter Lauren (Natalie Portman) is becoming emotionally-unstable. McCauley is just trying to do more work as it is all he knows while he meets and falls for a graphic designer in Eady (Amy Brenneman).
The film isn’t just about Hannah and McCauley dealing with each other and their own lives but the film also showcase that McCauley’s right-hand man in Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer) is going through issues with his wife Charlene (Ashley Judd) who is having an affair with a businessman in Alan Marciano (Hank Azaria). The script also play into the fact that McCauley, Shiherlis, Michael Cheritto (Tom Sizemore), and Trejo (Danny Trejo) are a crew who pride themselves in being professional and not kill anyone unless they have to as they bring in a wildcard in Waingro (Kevin Gage) who ends up becoming problematic as McCauley tries to kill him only for him to escape as he would end up being a problem for everyone including Hanna as it relates to the murders and raping of young women. Waingro would also play a role in the film’s second act as it relates to the bonds that McCauley and his crew stole as it belonged to the rich insurance salesman Roger Van Zant (William Fichtner). Mann doesn’t really create any heroes and villains but rather people are complicated with Van Zant and Waingro being the real villains in the film as they’re immoral and don’t care for anyone but themselves.
Mann’s direction definitely has an air of style in the presentation as it is shot on location in and around Los Angeles as the city itself is a character in the film. Mann uses these locations to not just play into the world that McCauley wants despite its lack of fulfillment but also a world that is simple as McCauley’s crew are diverse as it would later include a former prison-mate of his in Don Breedan (Dennis Haysbert) as they also have a simple life. There are wide and medium shots to play into the scope of the locations as well as banks, hotel rooms, and other places as there is a lot of attention to detail in these rooms and places that Mann is filming as it adds to the large scope of the film. Notably in a scene where Hanna and his team are at a docking area where McCauley and his team are having a conversation as Hanna and his team go to that location where Hanna realizes what is going on. It adds to this air of intrigue and suspense that occurs throughout the film that includes this meeting between McCauley and Hanna at a diner.
It’s a scene in the middle of the film in this meeting of the two men where it serves as a meeting of the minds before these two men go to war as it is clear through its close-ups and simple reverse shots as these are just two complicated men who could be friends in another world and have a lot of similarities but are on opposite sides of the law. The heist sequence that comes in late in the second act is an intense moment where there is a lot of quick shots that play into the frenetic energy as there is a lot at stake including lives where McCauley and his crew don’t want to kill anyone but they’re pinned down. The third act isn’t just about who ratted McCauley out but also Hanna wanting to find out who snitched to them as well yet both men and Shiherlis would deal their own personal issues. There is also a lot of drama that Mann explore where it is clear that McCauley and Hanna are men of certain extremes but at least are honest to admit with the latter having to realize what he means to his family despite not being there as much. The climatic showdown of the two is one that is filled with an immense visual style in its scope but it also owes a lot to the western. Overall, Mann crafts a ravishing yet gripping film about a LAPD detective and a career-criminal going head-to-head in an upcoming heist.
Cinematographer Dante Spinotti does incredible work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of low-key lights and bluish colors for some of scenes in the day and night as well as using available light in some scenes to enhance some of the drama. Editors Don Hoenig, Pasquale Buba, William Goldenberg, and Tom Rolf do amazing work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts, fast-cuts, and other stylish cuts to play into the suspense and drama including the heist sequence. Production designer Neil Spisak, with set decorator Anne H. Ahrens and art director Margie Stone McShirley, does excellent work with the look of the homes that some of the characters live in as well as the offices that Hanna and his team work at and some of the diners that the characters go to. Costume designer Deborah Lynn Scott does fantastic work with the costumes from some of the stylish and posh clothing that both Charlene and Justine wear to the more casual and looser look of Eady with a lot of the suits that the men wear.
Makeup artist John Caglione Jr. and hair stylist Vera Mitchell, with tattoo designer Ken Diaz, do terrific work with the look of a few characters from the long-haired look of Shiherlis as well as the tattoos of Trejo. Visual effects supervisor Neil Krepela does nice work with some of the film’s minimal visual effects such as a scene of McCauley and Eady looking at the L.A. skyline at night. Sound editors Per Hallberg and Larry Kemp, along with sound designer Peter Michael Sullivan, do superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the locations as well as how guns sound when they fire as it is a highlight of the film. The film’s music by Elliot Goldenthal is wonderful for its somber yet moody score that mixes orchestral bits with some ambient electronic pieces while music supervisor Budd Carr creates a hypnotic soundtrack that features pieces by Moby, Einsturzende Neubauten, Terje Rypal & the Chasers, the Kronos Quartet, the Passengers (U2 & Brian Eno), B.B. King, and Lisa Gerrard.
The casting by Bonnie Timmerman is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Bud Cort as a diner owner that Breedan works for, Farrah Forke as a news reporter, Hazelle Goodman as a dead prostitute’s mother, Paul Herman as a police sergeant, Jeremy Piven as a surgeon, the trio of Rick Avery, Bill McIntosh, and Thomas Rosales Jr. as armored truck guards, Patricia Healy as Bosko’s date, Cindy Katz as a forensics investigator, Xander Berkeley as a friend of Justine named Ralph, Tom Noonan as a former criminal/guide in Kelso, Tone Loc and Ricky Harris as a couple of informant brothers who talk to Hanna about the word on the street, Jerry Trimble as one of Hanna’s detectives in Danny Schwartz, Henry Rollins as Van Zant’s assistant, Kim Statton as Breedan’s wife, Susan Traylor as Cherrito’s wife, Yvonne Zima as a young girl Cherrito reluctantly takes hostage, and Hank Azaria as Charlene’s lover Alan Marciano who is also involved in his own criminal activities until Hanna uses him as bait.
The performances of Ted Levine, Wes Studi, and Mykelti T. Williamson in their respective roles as Detective Mike Bosko, Lieutenant Sammy Casals, and Sergeant Bobby Drucker are terrific as members of Hanna’s team who all provide some insight into their mission with Sgt. Drucker being the one who deals with Charlene while not taking shit from Marciano. Natalie Portman is wonderful in her small role as Justine’s troubled teenage daughter Lauren who is dealing with an absentee father and other mental issues that raises concern from Hanna. Dennis Haysbert is superb as Don Breedan as a former prison mate of McCauley who is not happy with his parole assignment until he meets McCauley and agrees to help him while Danny Trejo is fantastic as McCauley’s friend Trejo who often serves as the driver in the heists until he is tailed by the police. Kevin Gage and William Fichtner are excellent in their respective villainous roles as Waingro and Roger Van Zant with the former being this deviant wildcard who has no remorse in who he kills while the latter is just a greedy insurance salesman who only cares about money and control.
The trio of Amy Brenneman, Ashley Judd, and Diane Venora are brilliant in their respective roles as Eady, Charlene Shiherlis, and Justine Hanna as the women in the lives of these three men with Brenneman providing a sense of warmth and hope to McCauley while Judd serves as a frustrated wife who is upset over her husband’s gambling issues and Venora as Hanna’s wife who is often upset by his frequent absences and her troubled daughter. Tom Sizemore and Jon Voight are amazing in their respective roles as the thief Michael Cherrito and the fence Nate with the former being someone who is eager for one more score while the latter helps McCauley in finding new jobs but is aware that something about Van Zant isn’t right. Val Kilmer is incredible as Chris Shiherlis as McCauley’s right-hand man who is a great marksman but also has gambling issues and feels like he’s not good enough for his wife and kid where he deals with the dangers of his work and being caught.
Finally, there’s Al Pacino and Robert de Niro in tremendous performances in their respective roles as Lieutenant Vincent Hanna and Neil McCauley. Pacino’s performance is a bit reserved while he also has some wild moments in a scene where he confronts Marciano as there are also moments where he is sensitive and does what he can to be helpful. The performance from de Niro is also low-key as someone who is meticulous in what he wants to do as he is also a man with a code while is eager to have a life outside of crime. Pacino and de Niro’s few scenes together are a joy to watch where it is two men displaying a mastery in their craft as these two extremes who have a lot of similarity but also know they have a code to live by.
Heat is a magnificent film from Michael Mann. Featuring a phenomenal ensemble cast, rapturous visuals, gripping action sequences, fascinating studies of characters and ideals, and an intoxicating music score. The film is definitely a crime drama that diverts the idea of heroes and villains in favor of studying morals as well as what two men would to maintain their own ideals. In the end, Heat is an outstanding film from Michael Mann.
Michael Mann Films: (The Jericho Mile) – Thief (1981 film) - The Keep – Manhunter - (L.A. Takedown) – The Last of the Mohicans - (The Insider) – Ali - Collateral - Miami Vice - Public Enemies - Blackhat - (Ferrari) – (The Auteurs #74: Michael Mann)
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