Michael Mann’s Heat may concern cops and robbers, but its richness in character exploration and the vividness of its action sequences take it far into another realm of action picture.
The Production: 4.5/5
Michael Mann’s Heat may concern cops and robbers, but its richness in character exploration and the vividness of its action sequences take it far into another realm of action picture. The director’s definitive edition released in this new edition won’t likely reveal any nuances that longtime fans haven’t already ferreted out, but the movie is so richly complex that each new visit to its personal and professional glimpses into the lives of two dedicated teams of men: one upholding the law and one disregarding it always reveals fresh insights and inspirations to the casual viewer. This is, in short, its director’s greatest achievement.
A well-funded and highly professional heist crew headed by mastermind Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) has three big payday jobs on its docket: the theft of $1.6 million in bearer bonds, a lucrative platinum burglary, and the extraction of $12.1 million from a bank. The crew gets away clean from the first job though a new addition to the team Waingro (Kevin Gage) gets trigger happy and kills the three guards and is summarily ejected from the squad. But this misfire is enough to spur an intense investigation by ace LAPA homicide detective Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), a cagey police veteran who has brought down some of the toughest and most organized gangs in the country. It’s at the second job where McCauley, at this point under surveillance by Hanna and his men, figures out something is amiss and thus aborts the mission, the police letting him and his top lieutenant Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer) escape due to a lack of evidence that could put them away for life. Though McCauley thinks they should pull up stakes and leave Los Angeles (he’s met a woman (Amy Brenneman) he feels he could build a life with) especially after he has a face-to-face meeting with Hanna who lets him know he’s under close scrutiny, he leaves it up to the team whether they should pull off their third job. The decision is made to go for it, and now the stakes for everyone are riding extremely high and the slightest slip-up could mean the difference between life and death.
Writer-producer-director Michael Mann has treated all of his characters as protagonists in his amazingly written and cagily structured screenplay. We basically go back-and-forth between the cops and the robbers peering into their professional worlds while at the same time seeing the upsides and (mostly) downsides of the lives they have chosen to live with loved ones who, on both sides of the law, are burdened by the choices being made for the work subsequently affecting unstable family life. Mann’s direction of the three heists is exemplary and a perfect example of where he has placed narrative before his visual style for a change: the first one going off with great precision, the second aborted right before the score is made, and the third ending in one of the most kinetically explosive street-level gun battles in movie history. From that point on, the film only gains in suspense as the heist survivors try to get out of town while holding on to pieces of their existences they want to retain while at the same time feeling the need to settle the score with squealers and screw-ups. The police side of the story is also well captured with long hours of surveillance, split-second decisions having to be made about arrests, and the efforts to defend themselves while keeping terrified onlookers safe from the sprays of bullets coming from the mobsters who don’t care whom they hit. There are a couple of missteps along the way: a subplot involving Hanna’s stepdaughter Lauren (Natalie Portman), distraught over the indifference of her real-life father, seems an unnecessary complexity to his personal story which is already fraught with explosive derision with his dissatisfied wife Justine (Diane Venora), and the climactic chase of McCauley by Hanna across LAX into adjoining fields and outbuildings is more rudimentary than it should have been with two minds as keen as these two enemies behaving in less than intelligent fashion.
Al Pacino receives top billing and offers the more bombastic and showy of the two leading performances. (Pacino later revealed there were cut scenes that showed his character was a cocaine user which would account for his sometimes overly manic behavior.) Robert De Niro is restrained and almost admirable as the brilliant crook who lives strictly by a solitary code that works for him, until it doesn’t and he falls victim to solving his loneliness by involving himself intimately with someone else. The two legendary actors’ first scene together coming some ninety minutes into the movie is the kind of thing students of acting can study for years for the nuances of give and take that the two actors provide. Val Kilmer is unpredictably fun to watch as the feisty Chris while Tom Sizemore as the more settled and cool-headed Mike Cheritto offers an outstanding performance. Jon Voight plays the enigmatic fixer Nate with his fingers in lots of pies while Dennis Haysbert is fine (but underused) as a late-joining member of the crew replacing the psychopath played engagingly by Kevin Gage. On the law-abiding side of the equation, Hanna’s team is wonderfully acted by Wes Studi, Ted Levine, and Mykelti Williamson. Others operating on the illegal fringes of the story (while still vitally important to its unspooling) are William Fichtner and Hank Azaria. As the women in the lives of these men, Diane Venora, Amy Brenneman, and Ashley Judd all have moments to shine and do much with their limited screen time. The very young Natalie Portman also does superbly with her few scenes as the disturbed Lauren.
3D Rating: NA
This new restoration supervised by the director and overseen by Fox’s Shawn Belston is a honey, the theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 being faithfully delivered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. There isn’t an age-related spot or speck to be seen, and sharpness is consistently excellent except in scenes which have always featured softer cinematography. Black levels are wonderfully rich and deep, and shadow detail is very pleasing. Color throughout is controlled and very realistic with very believable skin tones. The movie has been divided into 52 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is as enveloping and kinetic as it ever has been with thundering bass where appropriate (all the scenes at LAX feature takeoffs and landings panning across and through the soundstage), and the most creative sound design offering split atmospheric effects throughout that put the viewer into the center of the action. Dialogue has been superbly recorded and has been placed in the center channel. The music by Elliot Goldenthal and songs by Moby get excellent spread through the fronts and rears.
Special Features: 5/5
The feature film Blu-ray contains the familiar audio commentary by producer Michael Mann, pretty much explaining action on the screen and offering psychological explanations for the choices the characters are making.
All of the other bonus material is contained on a separate Blu-ray disc. It contains:
Academy Panel Discussion (1:03:23, HD): director Christopher Nolan first introduces writer-director Michael Mann and stars Al Pacino and Robert De Niro who answer his questions for about half an hour. Then additional members of the production company including actors Val Kilmer, Mykelti Williamson, and Diane Verona, editor Dov Hoenig, and producer Art Linson come onto the stage and also take part in the questions and answers.
TIFF Q&A (30:27, HD): at the Toronto International Film Festival, Heat is screened for a packed audience, and writer-director Michael Mann offers an eight minute introduction and then about twenty-two minutes of questions and answers afterwards.
The Making of Heat (59:12, SD): a three-part documentary on the writing, casting, and production of the movie with comments from writer-director Michael Mann, Chicago police detective Chuck Adamson who gave Mann the inspiration from his true life experiences, historian Richard Lindberg, Mann friend Dennis Farina, technical advisor Tom Elfont, first assistant director Michael Wasman, second assistant director Ami Mann, director of photography Dante Spinotti, producers Art Linson and Pieter Jan Brugge, production designer Neil Spisak, composers Elliot Goldenthal and Moby, sound mixer Chris Jenkins, and actors Diane Venora, Amy Brenneman, Ashley Judd, Mykelti Williamson, Dennis Haysbert, Tom Noonan, Robert De Niro, Jon Voight, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, and Tom Sizemore.
Pacino and De Niro: The Conversation (9:58, SD): the faceoff between the two legendary actors is commented on by director Michael Mann, producer Pieter Jan Brugge, cinematographer Dante Spinotti (who explains how it was shot), and actors Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Jon Voight, Ashley Judd, and Tom Sizemore.
Return to the Scene of the Crime (12:05, SD): location manager Janice Polley takes us back to many of the locations in Los Angeles used for filming memorable scenes in the movie.
Deleted Scenes (9:44, SD): eleven scenes may be watched individually or in montage.
Theatrical Trailers (6:48, SD): three trailers may be watched together or separately.
Digital Copy: code sheet enclosed in the case.
One of the greatest crime pictures of the last quarter century, Michael Mann’s Heat looks incredibly beautiful and sounds notably amazing in this new restoration offered on Blu-ray. Highly recommended!