The International Writers Magazine: Reviews: HEAT Directed
by Michael Mann
- Dir Michael Mann
Dan Schnieder review
Staring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro
Now out on DVD
Michael Mann seems to be a B director of A films. By that I mean his
films lack any vision, or unifying elements that stamp them Michael
Mann- he is so hit and miss in so many ways. Think about it- whatever
you think of him, the moment a Tarantino film starts you know it. Mann
would have, 50 years ago, been the talented but consummate studio director.
Perhaps the only unifying element that Mann films have are that they
are all far too long. Ive now seen four of his films, two excellent
ones- Manhunter (far better than its remake, Red Dragon, or any of the
Anthony Hopkins Hannibal Lecter films- see Nixon for a truly scary Hopkins!)
and The Insider . -Plus two mediocre to bad ones- Ali and now, Heat.
The good films overcome their length by the strength of their scripts
and the quality of the actors. The two bad ones do not. Will Smith gives
an embarrassingly comic imitation of Muhammad Ali in a hagiographic
whitewash of his career, while Heat is such a clichéd cops and
robbers flick that I marvel at how many gullible people there are online.
In researching the film the most bandied about words were epic
and masterpiece. The film is neither. While the latter term
is possibly debatable (not really) the former is not. Epic simply is
not equivalent to long. Epic means that the work deals with larger than
life characters, situations, and tragedy. Heat is populated by banal
small-time off-the-rack clichés of what Hollywood thinks criminals
are, not the real deal, has wholly unrealistic situations- especially
involving the characters, and cannot, by definition, be tragic since
the characters that take a fall are not grand, nor even grandiloquent,
to begin with. And, at just 10 minutes shy of 3 hours, it makes KB2
feel like a breezy Looney Tune.
The film, much hyped for the first onscreen meeting of Al Pacino and
Robert De Niro, opens with an only in Hollywood heist of an armored
bank truck. The newest member of the gang- Waingro (Kevin Gage) - panics,
which results in the murder of the three guards. De Niros character,
Neil McCauley, the gangs leader, attempts to kill the screw up,
but he escapes. Meanwhile, Vincent Hanna (Pacino), LAPD homicide expert,
takes over the case. Needless digressions include Hannas failing
marriage with his faithless wife Justine (Diane Venora) and suicidal
stepdaughter (Natalie Portman), Waingroes revelation as a serial
killer of prostitutes, McCauleys contrived and sparkless romance
with a lonely bookworm 25 years his junior, Eady (Amy Brenneman), and
the backstory of the newest member of the gang. If the long and superfluous
digressions are not bad enough, the implausible action scenes and character
interactions are worse- this is an absolutely abominable screenplay,
folks. Here are just some of the implausibilities: after figuring out
that McCauleys thieves have turned the tables on him Hanna stops
McCauley, who absurdly agrees to a cup of joe with him. This is the
big Clash of Titans the film hypes, but is as realistic
as John Ashcroft breaking bread with Osama bin Laden. Instead, we get
insipid dick on the table banter as Hanna warns McCauley he just might
have to take him out. McCauley counters, Oh yeah?
I just might have to take you out. It would have been a hoot had
McCauley replied, You talkin to me?, but no such luck.
When the main bank robbery goes awry McCauley and his sidekick Chris
Shiherlis (Val Kilmer), kill dozens with machine guns in downtown LA,
while the new guy and their other partner Michael Cheritto, (Tom Sizemore),
get killed, Kilmer gets wounded, yet somehow McCauley carries him and
the loot to a shot up car and escapes. Made a year after the O.J. Simpson
murders one wonders where the LAPD helicopters were to not let the bad
guys escape so easily? Eady realizes her new beau, whom she has nothing
in common with, is a stone cold killer, as she sees him on a newscast
of the shootout. She flees into the night, is followed by McCauley,
captured, and dragged back to his place. Of course, love wins out and
she consents to go on the run with him to New Zealand (huh?). Having
made his great Hollywood escape McCauley just cannot let things rest
and jet off with his lover. This is supposed to illustrate his tragic
side. He first does in one of his backers who doublecrossed
him, then goes after Waingroe, whos stashed at a hotel, under
LAPD watch, to trap McCauley. He leaves his lover in the car and tells
her to keep it running. He evades the cops and their security cameras
by simply pulling a fire alarm. He does in Waingroe, then escapes. But,
the hotel is in a panic.
He sees Hanna coming for him outside the hotel. He takes off. Hanna,
without any backup or telling anyone where hes going, takes off
after McCauley with a machine gun. They clash on the run through the
runways of LAX, where Hanna shoots McCauley. The two men- one a mad
dog killer and the other a workaholic cop- hold hands as McCauley dies.
This was supposed to symbolize that they made some connection only men
can know when they measured each others schlongs over coffee.
Forget that McCauley murdered at least a dozen of Hannas fellow
brother cops in the bank heist - Hanna understands this
man because hes a cop thats on the edge- a phrase
he actually uses to describe himself. Why not say outta control,
too? Then again, McCauley is so sympathetic to him because Hanna realizes
that he is like McCauley, who earlier said, I dont know
who I am any more.
This midlife crisis, apparently, the motivation for his heists and mass
murder. Repeat after me, my children- OY! Meanwhile Kilmers character
escapes capture because the wife he abused, Charlene (Ashley Judd),
somehow overlooks his scumminess and helps him escape. These two characters
were so one-dimensional you have to wonder why Mann got big stars to
play them? Kilmer - so great in The Doors and The Salton Sea - simply
phones in his performance. Same goes for the superfluous caricatures
acted by John Voight, Tom Sizemore, and Natalie Portman.
In short, Heat is a mediocre movie at best - its visual style accounting
for whatever props it deserves. It was only two years later that the
brilliant L.A. Confidential came along and showed America what a truly
great crime film could be. As for the DVD itself? Its no-frills-
theres no commentary, three trailers, but the actual transfer
of the film print is very clean, as is the sound quality. Curiously,
the DVD package seems to recapitulate the making of the film: great
attention paid to the shine, but a fairly hollow core.
I waited years to see this film because
it was so overhyped, just like I waited years to see the abominable
Schindlers List. Heat is not that bad, but post-9/11 this sort
juvenilia all seems kind of unreal. Can I have my weekend back?
© Dan Schneider, May 2004
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