There’s not a bad cut in Heat. To maintain consistency in editing for more than two hours requires the patience of an artist. Heat includes four of them. Michael Mann’s film reinvents the crime movie genre through a clever script, first-rate performances and a rare sense of the little picture. By showing both sides of the law in equal measure, Mann introduces a rich variety of players.
Sly criminal mastermind Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) first appears at a hospital where he steals an ambulance in preparation for a heist (or score) involving an armoured truck. He’s after bearer bonds, not loose cash. Yet these bonds belong to businessman Roger Van Zant (William Fichtner), who agrees to buy them back “for 60% of their value.” However, things go wrong when Van Zant’s delivery men turn out to be assassins. They are swiftly eliminated by Neil and his team, which includes Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer) and Michael Cheritto (Tom Sizemore).
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) takes over the investigation of the armoured truck robbery. Through an informant, he discovers that Cheritto may be involved in a future score.
Mann devotes equal time to the men and women of his story. In particular, Justine (Diane Venora) has several moments in which she reminds Vincent of their floundering relationship. Each conversation carries more power than any action sequence.
The film’s greatest quality involves the casting of Pacino and De Niro. These two acting legends have never shared a scene together before, not even in The Godfather Part 2 (1974). In Heat, the two men engage in an open discussion about their lives. It’s a defining moment for both actors. Pacino reveals a quieter, more sensitive, world-weary side to his personality while De Niro sheds some light on his character’s perspective. Suffice to say, the scene raises the bar in terms of sublime acting technique and filmmaking.
Another great, non-verbal moment occurs when De Niro’s character stares out at a lush blue ocean at night and you can sense his loneliness in the world. Given the fact that few filmmakers pay any attention to character development, this little scene proves to be a revelation.
Behind some ingenious make-up, Jon Voight projects meaning and purpose as McCauley’s wise friend, Nate. In his few minutes of screen time, Voight comes very close to stealing the picture.
The light of Los Angeles becomes another character through the work of cameraman Dante Spinotti. Many original touches define his style, not the least of which is the insistence on using real locations instead of built sets.
In a cinematic environment often plagued by timidity, the makers of Heat simply refuse to play it safe. As a result, the film sears its way onto the landscape while making a mark in people’s minds and hearts. In short, Mann creates his first masterpiece.
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated "R" by MPAA.)