In the tradition of David Lynch & 'Mulholland Drive', Michael Mann's 'Heat' originated from a failed television project ('LA Takedown'). 'Heat' carries over the same basic plot as well as certain specific lines from 'L.A. Takedown' (there's even a cameo in 'Heat' from Xander Berkley who appears in the original). And strangely enough, 'Heat' and 'Mulholland Drive' share another common bond. Aside from being set in L.A., certain aspects of both films are LOOSELY based on true events and real people (with 'Mulholland Drive', David Lynch was subconsciously influenced by the death of his former assistant, while certain characters in 'Heat' are based on real people). 'L.A. Takedown' was a more simplified version of what Mann really wanted to do. It didn't have so many characters, not as many subplots and its only 90 minutes long, whereas 'Heat' is almost 3 hours with quite a few side stories.
In 'Heat', Al Pacino plays "Vincent Hanna": A somewhat unusual, yet dedicated police lieutenant (based on real life police officer-turned screen writer Chuck Adamson) who's on the trail of "Neil McCauley" (Robert Deniro) and his crew (Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Danny Trejo) who're about to pull a major heist. Hanna and McCauley's relationship, which we'll get to a little later, is a bit strange but at the same time very interesting.
I really appreciate the fact that even though 'Heat' is essentially an action film (or "crime drama"), Michael Mann took his time, and wasn't afraid to make a long, complex tale involving many different players and subplots. These subplots include: Hanna's marital problems and his suicidal stepdaughter (played by Natalie Portman), McCauley's relationship with his girlfriend and his pursuit of a former partner of his who double crosses him (just like in 'Thief', 'Public Enemies' and 'Miami Vice', Michael Mann creates a world where there's GOOD bad guys). The film also delves in to the life of Denrio's partner/2nd in command; "Chris" (Val Kilmer) who's also got marital and gambling problems. Over the years I've heard some people complain about all the additional characters and subplots, but in my opinion I thought they gave the film depth. In addition to basing Al Pacino's character off of a real life police officer, Michael Mann also based John Voight's character off of actor/author/ex-con Eddie Bunker (reservoir dogs and animal factory), who also acted as a consultant on 'Heat'.
The rest of the supporting cast in this film is so stacked, you often forget all the actors in it like; Ted Levine, Tom Noonan, Hank Azaria or Dennis Haysbert. Even a pre-entourage Jeremy Piven has a small part.
'Heat' is one of my favorite movies, but at the same time I cant deny it has its plot holes or unbelievable moments like; Al Pacino man handling Henry Rollins (i don't think so), Val Kilmer's getaway at the end or 3 guys greatly outnumbered by a S.W.A.T. team who manage to shoot their way out and get away with only 1 casualty, but none of that really seemed to bother me, because in my opinion it didn't take away from the "big picture".
This isn't just a blog entry about 'Heat'. Its also doubling as a study on Michael Mann and his style of film making (with 'Heat' as the main focus). Ever since i started doing the "images & stills" studies on various directors on PINNLAND EMPIRE, I've always felt the one i did on Michael Mann was pretty weak, so I'm gonna make up for it now...
"MICHAEL MANN STYLE":
In my opinion, 'Heat' is an important landmark. Its where all the great elements of Mann's early work like 'Thief' and 'Manhunter' (the acting, the grittiness, the music) met the great elements of his future work like 'Miami Vice' and 'Collateral' (unique cinematography, bright lights, big cities, nightclubs, beautiful lighting, etc). Techniques and shots were carried over from 'Thief' and 'Manhunter' into 'Heat', and we were also introduced to new techniques and shots in 'Heat' that Mann continues to do to this day...
|'The Insider' (1999)|
|'Public Enemies' (2009)|
|'Miami Vice' (2006)|
Its common knowledge to most movie nerds/Michael Mann fanatics that Alex Colville's painting; "Pacific" not only inspired some great shots in 'Heat' (below)
but 'Miami Vice' as well...
and as i said in my review of 'Thief', Mann draws inspiration from french crime directors like Jean Pierre Melville (specifically 'Le Circle Rouge'). Deniro's performance in 'Heat' is very Alain Delon-esque (minimal emotions, cool, calm, collected). Melville's influence on Mann has also trickled down to other filmmakers like Nicolas Winding Refn in 'Drive'...
|'Le Circle Rouge'- Melville (1970)|
Melville's influence on Michael Mann's other work (note the style of lights and the way they're shot in Melville's film compared to Mann's Ali)...
|'Le Circle Rouge'|
DENIRO & PACINO:
Of course the biggest hype around 'Heat' was that this was gonna be the first film to have Pacino and Denrio on screen together (as we all know they were both in 'The Godfather Part 2', but never at the same time). Say what you want, but Michael Mann has managed to quietly work with some of the biggest actors from each era. James Caan in the early 80's, Denrio, Pacino and Russell Crowe in the 90's and Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise, Javier Bardem and Christian Bale in the last decade. He was quite aware of the hype that would be surrounding this, and he made the audience wait until that classic scene when both iconic actors wold be in the same scene together. In the first half of 'Heat', Mann teased us with the stakeout scene, which is edited to look like Deniro and Pacino are looking right at each other when in fact they're in completely different locations.
He prolongs the meeting between Pacino and Deniro yet AGAIN, with another similar scene in which they aren't on camera together, but both are aware of each other's presence...
Eventually we get the famous "cafe scene" where Pacino and Deniro finally meet (which is kinda edited in a similar fashion as the stakeout scene from earlier). Their relationship in this scene, as well as this movie is like a flirty heterosexual relationship. Both characters have (some) respect for each other, even though they're technically enemies. Its this unspoken "thing" between the two of them...
Now that we've been face to face, if I'm there and I gotta put you away, I won't like it. But I tell you, if it's between you and some poor bastard whose wife you're gonna turn into a widow...brother...you are going down. - Vincent Hanna (Pacino)
There is a flip side to that coin. What if you do got me boxed in and I gotta put you down? Cause no matter what, you will not get in my way. We've been face to face, yeah. But I will not hesitate. Not for a second. - McCauley (Deniro)
The respect that Hanna has for McCauley is a little odd. Its like he has a crush on him or something. His choice of words in that scene is a bit strange. As a cop, why wouldn't he like it if he had to take down a criminal who was putting the lives of others in danger (you know, essentially doing his job)? Through out the film whenever Hanna mentions McCauley, he repeats the line; "this guy is good". On the flip side, it seemed like once McCauley found out Hanna was on to him, he wanted to go through with it even more because it would be the ultimate challenge for him.
'Heat' is easily one of the best movies of the 90's and one of the greatest crime dramas of all time (...in my opinion). A true Los Angeles film that deserves its place among other ensemble modern LA films like 'Shortcuts' or 'Pulp Fiction'.