Combustible Celluloid
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With: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Amy Brenneman, Ashley Judd, Mykelti Williamson, Wes Studi, Ted Levine, Dennis Haysbert, William Fichtner, Natalie Portman, Tom Noonan, Hank Azaria, Danny Trejo, Henry Rollins, Tone Loc, Jeremy Piven
Written by: Michael Mann
Directed by: Michael Mann
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language
Running Time: 172
Date: 15/12/1995

Heat (1995)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Cops and Robbers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Heat on DVD

No other filmmaker epitomizes style-over-substance more than Michael Mann, and his 1995 film Heat clearly emphasizes this. Clocking in at nearly three hours and boasting a tremendous cast of brilliant players large and small, Heat has the look and feel of a masterpiece. Yet the core story might have been plucked from a 1940s routine gangster programmer; its leaps of logic require the viewer to overlook quite a bit. A career robber, Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro), hires an unknown new man to help on his latest job, and lo and behold he turns out to be a loose cannon, turning a simple robbery into a homicide. That brings Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) onto the case. From there, it's a giant game of cat-and-mouse with each man trying to outsmart the other. The underlying theme is that the two men are one in the same; both are dedicated to their job above all else, even to the detriment of their most personal relationships. Vincent is barely hanging onto a marriage with Justine (Diane Venora), while Neil skittishly begins a new relationship with Eady (Amy Brennaman).

Heat has an intoxicating, seductive look and feel, and if viewers can check their brains at the door, it succeeds on a surface level. It also contains the groundbreaking scene in which both men sit down for a cup of coffee, marking the first time Pacino and De Niro ever performed a scene together. (They both appeared in The Godfather Part II, but in different timelines and storylines.) Of the supporting cast, Ashley Judd is a standout as the intense wife of one of the robbers (Val Kilmer) and Natalie Portman plays a depressed teen caught between divorced parents. Jon Voight chews the scenery in an improbable role as a helpful crime guru who gets Neil all the information and paraphernalia he needs.

Yet despite the fact that Mann gestated this screenplay for 20 years and drags out the running time to epic proportions, the ending still registers with an unsatisfying thud, seemingly betraying all his pet themes.

DVD Details: Warner Home Video has re-released the film for its tenth anniversary in a two-disc set. Disc One features a commentary track by Mann, three trailers, an optional French language track and optional English, French and Spanish subtitles. Picture and sound are very good with Mann's trademark neon visuals coming through nicely. Disc Two comes with 11 additional scenes and five new featurettes. "True Crime" looks at the real people who inspired the story, "Crime Stories" explores the 20-years it took to get the film made, "Into the Fire" investigates the training period for the film, "Pacino and De Niro: The Conversation" breaks down the famous coffee scene, and "Return to the Scene of the Crime" has the filmmakers revisiting the film's locations ten years later.

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