Directed by Michael Mann
Written by Michael Mann
Cast: Robert De Niro, Tom Sizemore, Val Kilmer, Kevin Gage, Al Pacino, Amy Brenneman, Diane Venora, Natalie Portman, Dennis Haysbert, Danny Trejo, and Amanda Judd
Length: 2 hours and 50 minutes
Genre: Action, crime, drama
MPAA Rating: R
Description from IMDB:
“A group of professional bank robbers start to feel the heat from police when they unknowingly leave a clue at their latest heist, while both sides attempt to find balance between their personal and their professional lives.”
In 1990’s Las Angeles, a crew of criminals made up of Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro), Michael Cheritto (Tom Sizemore), Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer), and newcomer Waingro (Kevin Gage) pull a job on an armored truck. When tensions get high, Waingro shoots one of the guards, causing another guard to retaliate and be gunned down in turn, along with their third comrade. This upsets Neil, the leader, who is prepared to kill Waingro for his indiscretion before he escapes. It is this triple homicide that gains the attention of Lieutenant Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino); a veteran detective who soon picks up their trail and becomes obsessed with the hunt. While the criminals try to keep themselves from getting caught, both Neil and Vincent struggle to keep their professional and personal lives in balance, leading to a confrontation between the two at the expense of the attentions of those they love.
Neil and Vincent are the stars of Heat (1995), and the main plot of the film explores how similar their lives are despite being on opposite sides of the law. Neil is the loner of the crew; he keeps himself separate from any ties outside of his fellow criminals until he meets the lovely Eady (Amy Brenneman) by chance at a diner. He develops a relationship with her, though it is built upon the lie that he is a salesman. Vincent struggles to keep a balance with his third wife, Justine (Diane Venora), and her troubled daughter Lauren (Natalie Portman). He wants to be there, but his demanding job calls him away from Justine at inopportune moments and leads to their mutual lack of concentration toward Lauren, who is going through a difficult time with her real father. Neil’s downfall comes through his obsessive need to settle things with those who have wronged him, which mirrors Vincent’s compulsive drive to follow clues and hunt down criminals. The two men have mutual respect for one another, and a confrontation between an unstoppable force and an immoveable object creates the film’s climax.
Heat (1995) is told through a series of interconnected stories, though they don’t initially appear as such. We are introduced to the central characters who are part of Neil’s crew in the beginning, then Vincent and his home life, before the two converge through the armed robbery of the armored truck. Then the character of Donald Breedan (Dennis Haysbert), an ex-con looking for work, is added into the mix and we see the lousy work-arrangement he is forced into. His story is revisited intermittently until finally being connected to the main tale after Trejo (Danny Trejo), the crew’s getaway driver, flakes on the job and Neil recognizes Donald in the restaurant. This is an interesting way to add his character, though it plays a small part in the overall story, and creates a wider sense of the world in which these characters live.
The film’s title comes from a line that Neil says multiple times throughout the film; the essential sentiment is avoid becoming attached to anything that you cannot drop in 30 seconds when you feel the “heat” coming for you. This theme plays into the relationships of the criminals to not only each other, but those they care about. Chris and Michael both have families, with Chris being especially enamored by his wife Charlene (Ashley Judd). Neil follows his rule until meeting Eady, who softens him and allows him to create plans of a life without crime. However, when the heat is really on him and Vincent closes in, Neil does abide by the rule and leaves Eady to an unknown fate while he tries to escape on his own. These character’s professions lead to danger for those they love, and this eventually forces them choose between the only thing they know how to do and the ones close to them.
Heat (1995) is held as one of the greatest crime films ever made for good reason. The dynamic between De Niro and Pacino is electric when they are in command of their scenes, and absolutely bombastic when on screen together. The story is compelling because the criminals and lawmen are given depth through their familial stories and humanization. Not all the cops are good guys, not all of the criminals are evil-hearted (though Waingro is a real piece of work), and the dichotomy between Vincent and Neil is a wonderful story element to play with. This is not a movie for a light afternoon of killing time; it is of significant length, but one that is necessary to tell the story to its fullest. Heat (1995) shows what drives men to do good and ill toward one another, while dissecting the difficult subjects of work-life balance and obsessive passion.
Verdict: 5 cop-versus-criminal showdowns out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of Robert De Niro, fans of Al Pacino, fans of heist movies, fans of crime movies, fans of Al Pacino’s eccentricity, fans of Al Pacino yelling, fans of Robert De Niro being a badass, and adults.
Not recommended for: Fans of The Heat (2013), people who don’t want to see two of the most influential Italian-American actors face off, the easily traumatized, or children.