Film

Heat

Director
Michael Mann
Certificate
15
Running Time
171 mins

Back in 1995, venerable oldsters Robert De Niro and Al Pacino had done it all, apart from appearing on screen together, so the inevitable  dream teaming was bound to be hyped as an Event. Thankfully, Michael Mann’s long, flashy, sprawling, old-fashioned cops’n’robbers flick provides a more than worthy vehicle for the occasion. But let’s be honest here: it’s not the monumental classic that some critics would have you believe.

Pacino’s LAPD lieutenant is an obsessive, tormented rozzer whose third wife is reduced to humping a geek called Ralph under his nose just to get some attention. De Niro’s an edgy yet emotionally vulnerable criminal mastermind who demands total loyalty from his ruthlessly efficient crew (Tom Sizemore, Jon Voight, Val Kilmer – uniformly excellent supporting performances, despite Kilmer’s funny wig) as they pull off ever more audacious robberies across LA. Mann consciously turns the duo’s first encounter into a big tease during an electrifying interlude when De Niro rumbles a van full of surveillance cops and walks away after delivering a menacing stare through the heat-sensitive camera straight into Pacino’s soul.

The big centrepiece scene has them meeting up for a discussion of the film’s mildly existential subtext over a coffee, during which they both vow to plug each other in a grand climactic shootout given half a chance, despite their grudging mutual respect, and De Niro expounds upon his oft-repeated  philosophy about never having a relationship you couldn’t ditch at 30 seconds’ notice. This pretty much sets up the plot for the rest of the film, with Pacino flying around the pretty widescreen cityscapes in his helicopter barking at people while De Niro’s gang move in for the big heist. Characters are bumped off in approximate order of cast importance and everybody’s private lives fall apart.

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Mann’s script works hard to give his protagonists an emotional depth that goes beyond usual thriller conventions, though perversely these painful moments of domestic dysfunction are the only occasions when his three-hour film begins to drag. Pacino is mercifully restricted to only a couple of his trademark bug hamnmy scenes, while De Niro’s air of ruthless menace is compounded by a funny little beard that makes him look like the Master from Doctor Who in a certain light. There’s nothing new going on here, just a supremely well-crafted variation on that old flip-sides-of-the-same-coin equation binding cop and crim to preordained patterns of behaviour. For thrills, palm-moistening tension and a street shootout of near-ludicrous intensity, however, it’s a tough act to beat.

Heat is back on screen in the Everyman’s Saturday late night classics season.

By robin askew, Thursday, Jun 22 2017

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