Rob: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Rob DiCristino.
Adam: And I’m Adam Riske.
Heat. Already up to his knees in killers, rapists, bank robbers, and other deplorables, Lt. Hanna finds his greatest challenge yet in career criminal Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro), whose recent armored car heist has put him square in Hanna’s crosshairs. McCauley and his team (including Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, and Danny Trejo) are good, Hanna thinks. Probably the best he’s ever seen. It’s going to take more sacrifices to his already-strained personal life — restless third wife Justine (Diane Venora) and troubled step-daughter Lauren (Natalie Portman) — to take down this crew before they pull off their biggest score yet.
That’s just Hanna’s story, of course. Heat is a complex movie. Where do you want to start, Adam?
Adam: Heat might have been my most anticipated All Pacino. Like you, I think it’s fantastic. Let’s start with the hook of the movie, especially in 1995, which is the showdown between screen legends Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Though they had both played substantial roles in The Godfather Part II, Heat was the first movie where they shared screen time with one another. It’s a smart decision by the filmmakers to bank on their admiration of each other from afar and embed that into their characters. One of my favorite parts of Heat is the professional fandom Hanna and McCauley have for their opponent. I also love the workaday details of both the criminal and police element. Just like in Thief, it’s obvious that Michael Mann is well-versed in these worlds and it’s our good fortune as an audience that he’s also an incredible director and solid storyteller. Does this movie have a few convenient coincidences? Sure, but it hardly matters. That would be like criticizing a Beatles album because one song has a lyric you don’t adore.
Rob: Pacino’s erratic behavior works because the movie is on such confident, self-assured roller coaster tracks that his energy seems entirely appropriate and never distracting. I totally agree about De Niro, though. One of his core acting strengths is his ability to mull over options and make decisions over the span of a few short facial expressions (the moment when he decides to turn around and go after Waingro being the prime example), and he’s doing so much of that in his role as a leader to these men. He’s so good. You know what it’s like? It’s like Smokey and the Bandit: Al’s Burt Reynolds in the blocker car, cracking wise and attracting all the attention, but De Niro’s in the big rig hauling the priceless booze.
Adam: Who are some of your favorite characters in this film’s large ensemble cast? P.S. I saw this movie for the first time in theaters at age 13 and I remember really getting into the showdown aspect of the film. I would say to myself “Ok, it’s Pacino v. De Niro, Kilmer v. Levine, Sizemore v. Williamson, Trejo v. Studi.” I was a dork. Do you think Sizemore’s character thought he was De Niro’s no. 2 and in denial that it was really Kilmer?
Adam: I have a few favorites: Ted Levine (who was originally supposed to play a bad guy but requested his cop role to avoid typecasting), Tom Sizemore, Jon Voight, Amy Brenneman, and Dennis Haysbert. I love the arc they give to Haysbert’s getaway driver. It’s so compelling and it makes a strong impression in just a few brief scenes. It’s like this beautiful little tragedy within the larger story. One of Heat’s greatest strengths is that every character matters and the actors and filmmakers know who these people are and how they are before the story even started. I have really grown to appreciate Amy Brenneman’s character. I hear sometimes about how lonely being a L.A. resident can be and I feel that with her. She’s totally alone and weak by circumstance, but shows some resolve once she learns Neil lied to her. I love that one of her first responses is to ask not just when he’ll let her leave, but if he’d let her leave later because she’s undecided. It says a lot about her character in a single line of dialogue.
We need to talk about the bank robbery, the music score, and the ending. SPOILERS for Heat: Do you think the film would make more sense thematically for Neil and Vincent to have shot each other at the end and they both die? The current ending is good, but it feels like a coin flip or oddly optimistic for a director like Michael Mann. I bet if this were William Friedkin directing, De Niro would have gotten away with Pacino winding up on the short end.
What are your thoughts on the bank heist? I was reading a bit about how often other directors cite it when talking about their approach to staging action. It’s this wonderful, triumphant exhale of all the tension that has built throughout the movie.
Rob: I never knew that! I read somewhere that Pacino played Hanna as a cocaine addict, but I missed the Marine thing entirely. That plays even more into the “two sides of the same coin” dynamic between them. Speaking of which, can we mention The Diner Scene real quick? I use it as an example when I teach screenwriting (along with the adrenaline shot scene from Pulp Fiction), and I may have it memorized, at this point. My favorite line reading is Al going, “No I do naaahht.” It’s like Tommy Wiseau with talent.
Adam: I love the scene. I wish it were longer. It’s a long movie so I wish this scene took more advantage of the extra time. It’s one of those great movie moments where the director, the actors and the audience all want this scene so bad and it delivers. My favorite part is when Hanna confides in McCauley about how messed up his stepdaughter is by her father. It’s the type of thing you’re more comfortable telling to a stranger or a psychologist than a close confidant or spouse. Just another good, interesting detail. I want Hanna and McCauley to have a podcast together. Anything else you want to say about Heat? Mark Ahn for me obviously.
first pieces for F This Movie! was a little dissection of the movie’s themes of loneliness and loose ends, so I’ll just direct our readers to that and close by saying that Heat rules. It rules so hard that I put the Blu-ray in my player, pressed play, and stood in front of my TV for the first half hour without even consciously realizing it. I got lost in Heat right away — a movie I’ve seen at least ten to fifteen times now — which is all I can ask for. What are we tackling next week?
Adam: Next week we’re going to take a look back at Reserved Seating 2018 - go over the highlights, the memes, talk about reviews we stand by, what we’d re-do, etc. It’ll be fun! Until next time…
Rob: These seats are reserved.
This is a great article, guys. I love this movie, and Rob, I hope you'll notice that I commented the LAST time you wrote about it as well. Because, I have a question for you two that I don't want you to take the wrong way, and it's this: Does Pacino's performance in Heat only work because he's Al Pacino? If any other actor had moments like "GIVE ME ALL YOU GOT!", "...killed walking your DOGGIE", "Cause she's got a GREAT ASS...", etc., wouldn't we just call it a terrible performance? I love Al Pacino, but there are sections of this movie where it feels like Michael Mann just threw his hands up and went, "Okay. I guess that's what we're going to get." Your thoughts?ReplyDelete
I see your point. I think there's a few other actors that could pull it off (e.g. Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty), but I'm definitely enjoying it in a persona way.Delete
Thanks for both comments, Mookie! I agree with Adam that while there are other actors who could do it, Al makes it special because he's Al.Delete
I think it's easy to dismiss the performance as over-the-top for the sake of it (not saying you're doing that, but many do), but I honestly feel like the extremity of the performance is true to Hanna's struggle to cope with the brutality of his job. Instead of communicating and commiserating with his wife in a healthy, balanced way (the exact way she requests), he's firing off these bursts of built-up angst and energy at other people in his life. It's one of the self-destructive tenancies that he (hopefully) arcs through by the end of the film. In that way, it works really well for me.
I'm with you Adam on Waingro. An unbelievably terrifying character. Even the less showy scene when he's just at a bar gathering info, he's so fully realized and "real" feeling. Why is Kevin Gage not in every movie?ReplyDelete
Also I'll never forget the moment Rob mentions where De Niro makes the decision to turn around. In Mann's commentary he refers to the character's thoughts as reflected by De Niro's expressions: "celebratory nihilistic aggression", which is probably the most Michael Manniest thing I've ever heard. So cool!
"Celebratory nihilistic aggression" is incredible, and Kevin Gage isn't in every movie because he's obviously a volatile psychopath. I grew up with scary dudes like that.Delete
Dang, I also saw this in the theatre when I was 12 or 13, twice solo then I took a date. She was immediately bored but I didn't have much time to talk or make out because Heat was playing. Afterwards when we were waiting ouitside for her Mom to pick us uip I said something like, "so did you feel the Heat"? She didn't.ReplyDelete
Haven't seen it in forever, but I used to see it all the time on the double VHS. Can't wait to watch it now, thanks guys!
Thank you for the write up, Misters Riske and DiCristino! I have seen this film many times, but not for a long time, and had a lot of fun tonight revisiting it thanks to your column. The cast, acting, directing, score, story, LA backdrop, action, angst, all so good.ReplyDelete
Some things to ponder, though, because I’m a negative guy:
1. “One of Heat’s greatest strengths is that every character matters.” Henry Rollins’s and Hank Azaria’s characters absolutely didn’t need to be in this movie, though I’m glad they were.
2. Why sell the bonds back to Van Zantz?! Seems like asking for trouble.
3. Despite McCauley’s 30 second rule, everyone in his crew but him is happily and dangerously attached, and he almost so.
4. Danny Trejo’s character’s name is Trejo? Come on.
These issues float through my mind while watching, because it’s a darn long movie and I have lots of time to think. But I love it nonetheless.