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USA 1995
Directed by
Michael Mann
164 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
5 stars

Heat (1995)

Michael Mann’s atmospheric, edge-of-your-seat cops and robbers movie keeps the adrenaline pumping from start to finish whilst also achieving what action films rarely do - dramatic depth. Although this results in a longer playing time than some might like, the fleshing out of the lead character's private lives is handled with great skill by Mann who also wrote the script. But probably what is most effective in lifting the film head and shoulders above the standard genre fare is the same kind of epic romanticism with which Coppola invested The Godfather (1972) and which depends upon the character’s sense of themselves within a larger scheme of things (one might also suggest that Mann learned quite a bit from Michael Cimino's 1985 film, Year Of The Dragon, which tracked a to-the-death conflict between Jon Lone and Mickey Rourke). In this respect the meeting of the two antagonists in the diner is a masterful invention by Mann. Appealing to the anti-establishmentarian impulse which movies do so much to defuse, Mann's sympathies are overwhelmingly with the apparent bad guys who, despite their murderous ways and their inevitable punishment, are presented as outsider heroes adhering to their own code of honour in a kind of alt-moral universe. In this respect the film's ending is interesting. There are clearly two paths for it that Mann could have chosen and though ostensibly he resolves his film in favour of law and order much as with Cool Hand Luke (1967) in death the outsider has his validation and ultimately his mythic transfiguration.

As Neil McCauley, the professional crook, and Vincent Hanna, his relentless pursuer, De Niro and Pacino give powerful performances whilst the support cast are equally good. In an largely male-focussed film, Val Kilmer does fine job with the kind of flawed character he often plays whilst Jon Voight is a treat as the implacable fixer and Ashley Judd and Diane Venora provide strong presences as the variously put-upon wives who have remarkably similar solutions to their marital problems.

Mann’s script is skilfully plotted with few of the holes common to the genre although I must say I would have expected a master criminal such as McCauley to be a lot more efficient in disposing of Waingro (Kevin Gage) both at the beginning of the movie and its end although one can say that it is exactly the frailty of the characters that make this film so engaging and has us rooting for them. Equally, the incident involving Hanna’s step-daughter (Natalie Portman) also requires quite a deal of audience in-filling to make plausible but once again within the context of the character development it has greater gains than loss. Heat is gripping stuff with the climactic bank robbery a masterpiece of action staging and the film itself a gilt-edged classic of the genre, possibly the greatest of its kind yet.




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