Heat (1995) (R)

Michael Mann's "Heat" or as I like to call it "Stupid Women Who Can't Cope With Emotions or Logic and Enjoy Abusive Relationships" is nothing if not one of the quintessential crime movies ever made and this proves a point. The movie is glorious, beautiful, thrilling...it's pretty wonderful; but it doesn't try to stretch the genre and so it makes itself a very easy success without trying to rectify wrongs that need rectifying. That being said, Michael Mann shouldn't be held accountable for all the sins of the crime nenoir thriller, nor should he have the responsibility. It's just interesting how he navigates the tropes, and they are just as offensive as they always were; but that is very forgivable since "Heat" isn't an anomaly in this respect. Hell, we even see these same themes in a recent movie like "Drive".
But maybe that was too much too soon.
"Heat" works because Dante Spinotti is behind the camera. Los Angeles has never looked more beautifully bleak as it does here. The noir style is so tangible, so wonderfully present that the daunting running time of "Heat" flies by simply by how the film looks.
The movie's plot is fairly simple, even for its more complex and thrilling moments: good guy vs bad guy. Thief vs cop.
Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) is one of the best in the business, the business of crime. It's not that he enjoys stealing money or holding people up at gunpoint, it's just what he's best at. He's a very logical man. Why mess with something that's already working?
Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) is a lieutenant with the Los Angeles police, the antithesis to Neil. The two don't start out with knowledge of the other. This doesn't begin like "The Fugitive". Instead, they are fairly oblivious to each other, which makes the movie more interesting.
Neil holds up an armored car and takes a million dollars worth of bonds but something goes wrong. One of the guys on the team, Waingro (Kevin Gage) has a few screws loose and starts killing people. That wasn't part of the plan; but Neil is used to improvising, but make no mistake that this will not be forgotten or forgiven.
The rest of the crime team is rounded out by only one other unstable man, Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer) who likes to gamble his shares away and has a wife a kid dependent on him. There is a lot of Scorsese-esque scenes in which the woman is verbally smacked around and she takes it because...hey, abuse is cool. I'm not saying that these situations don't exist; but it doesn't serve any purpose in the plot besides making the viewer uncomfortable and furthering the stereotypes that we should be glad to get rid of. Okay, off my soap box.
After the first robbery, we start down a domino path of pursuing the bad guys and not knowing that we are being pursued. The film rightly never takes a side, so you kind of want both Vincent and Neil to win. They are both "good people" in a sense.
Vincent struggles with his marriage and the mental problems of his house, particularly his step-daughted (played by a very young Natalie Portman). While Neil wonders how he manages to be so lonely, he's having a crisis of life.
So we see these two men with their struggles and it's hard to pick a side, so don't.
"Heat" feels a lot like "Se7en" does, it is a story; but it is also a city. The movie encompasses this grand feeling of being everywhere. It's a bird's eye view of the hotels and the alleys. No nook or cranny is overlooked.
It would only be the hands of a true master who could pull this off. Michael Mann proves his sheer brilliance in this piece, which captures the gritty emotions of noir and provides a standard candle for us to measure thrillers with for the next few years. This movie inspires the sleek flawlessness of "Inception", the gritty noir of "Se7en", the crime of "The Dark Knight", and it is paired with "The Usual Suspects" as one of the more daunting films to take on.
Good versus evil fades for the last act of the movie. We just see two men trying to do what they do. It's about the routines.
"Heat" is a knock-out, even for its genre sins. It's wonderfully morose, horribly entertaining, and gripping in every scene.

Score: ★★★½

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