Heat. Heat, Heat, Heat, Heat… Believe it or not, folks, this movie is the reason the Man Movie Guide exists. This movie is the quintessential example of what we mean by a Man Movie. If you survey everyone you know that has seen Heat, a vast majority of people will tell you it was a good movie. However, if you speak to the men that have seen it, they are likely to get a certain twinkle in their eye. This movie touches a male nerve that most people won’t be able to explain away. Interpreting the movie through our primer on what constitutes a Man Movie, it becomes somewhat clearer what separates this movie from countless other good heist movies. This movie features heavy amounts of violence, manly archetypes of various stripes (on both sides of the law), loyalty, betrayal, brotherhood, honor, epic shootouts, and bank heists.
|CORRECTION: Heists with cool fucking hockey masks!|
Al Pacino plays a cop who buries his emotions in his work. His personal life collapses around him as he focuses on doing what he does, and shielding his family from the details. His single-mindedness is pointed out in dialogue with other people and how he responds to his wife’s accusations. Perhaps a better gauge, however, is his dialogue throughout the movie. One of the most bizarre things about this film is that it seems as though Pacino’s Lieutenant Hanna never has a conversation with anyone but himself. His answers to questions are nearly complete non-sequiturs, his anger is often unprovoked, his eye contact is all over the place. At times this is unnerving and almost helps the character who seems to border on the autism spectrum, but at others it leaves us with really funny lines like, “You can get killed walking your doggie!” Just imagine the trademark Pacino yell-y voice saying that. The only conversation he seems to be engaged in takes place at a coffee shop across the table from his nemesis, Robert De Niro. Whether this is intentional or not is undetermined, but it does add a gravitas to the scene beyond the mob movie fanboy ejaculation, “They’re finally in the same room together in the same movie!” that was likely a big selling point to the whole shebang.
|Sometimes it feels like the only thing separating Pacino from Gary Busey is The Godfather.|
Robert De Niro plays the head of a heist crew. His character has at least a partial resemblance to James Coburn’s character in The Magnificent Seven. The money almost seems secondary to both the challenge and the craft to De Niro’s Neal McCauley. As with many, many heist movies, this one focuses on the concept of ‘one last big score’. But don’t let that deter you from the film. If anything, it just helps to amplify the underlying philosophical premise of the movie. You see, this film is about as fatalistic and deterministic as it gets. Characters are constantly and repeatedly going against their own decisions, not to mention against good advice or the smart move. Each character seems as though they’re traveling on rails towards the endgame, and what makes this movie both wonderful and tragic, is that those rails all inevitably collide in a pleasantly unpleasant way. Thieves have to steal, cops must fight crime, psychopaths are compelled to kill, criminals are unable to leave their life behind, witnesses can’t not testify despite the implications, and relationships live on in the brutal light of infidelity and incompatibility. Case in point, during the pivotal shared coffee between Hanna and McCauley, the following exchange happens:
I don't know how to do anything
(the shared confession) ...neither do I.
And I don't much want to.
Neither do I.
If you have seen this movie, and it’s been a while, you’re likely forgetting what an unbelievably ridiculous cast was involved. Granted, not everyone was well known at the time, but De Niro’s gang also includes Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, and Danny Trejo. Jon Voight is their awesomely disgusting mulleted fence and advisor. Pacino investigates flanked by Ted “It rubs the lotion on its skin” Levine. Natalie Portman is Pacino’s stepdaughter Ashley Judd plays Val Kilmer’s wife. The movie also features Dennis Haysbert, Hank Azaria, Jeremy Piven, Tone Loc, and Henry Rollins. It can be distracting, but only momentarily.
The movie, though it belongs on the Man Movie Mount Rushmore, is far from perfect. The non-orchestral music is particularly bad. Much of the time the music has a seedy mid-90s aspect not unlike an episode of Red Shoe Diaries, and a scene in a hip, urban underground club features House of Pain (unlikely even in 1995). The dialog between Waingro and his prostitute sounds like it was written by Michael Mann while he was trying to watch something on TV at the same time. If you think we’re making a big deal about nothing, she at one point says this to Waingro, “You fly. You cool.” Nobody says that ever. Not ever. She goes on to say, and we quote, “You a hot dog. You a cowboy. You hung like a horse and this was the monster fuck of my young life. Now I gotta get my ass streetside.” Really, Michael Mann?! Really? It also warrants mentioning that the lighting in certain scenes is completely fake to the point that it looks like actors are in front of a green screen for something as mundane as being on a balcony overlooking the city. We’re not sure who was in charge of this, but lighting is a craft that was honed to a point so as to be innocuous in ordinary scenes in non-expressionist/surrealist films decades before Heat came out. There are no less than three scenes that throw all conventional lighting knowledge out the window.
|Unless Mac Tonight is standing right behind you, this is not how night looks.|
Flaws and all, this movie is an essential. The first heist holds up just as intense and indispensable as when it first came out nearly 20 years ago. The acting and the script (with the one noted exception) is phenomenal. The movie is thrilling and suspenseful and gut-wrenching. It also manages to accomplish what so few movies do; it humanizes both sides. Some people grew up wanting to be the good guys, others grew up thinking being a bank robber would be awesome… but it’s safe to say that the movie makes you understand the allure and the grief of both.