I hate to condone the making of 3-hour long movies, but Heat is one in which you’re not going to fall asleep. Comparisons to Casino are going to be inevitable, with both hitting the 180-minute mark and starring Robert De Niro as a crook, but unlike that film, Heat manages to keep the interest level high throughout the whole picture.
Heat is the instantly gripping tale of a large-scale heist leader and die-hard loner named Neil McCauley (De Niro). As the film opens, he and his team of brutal, precision thieves (including Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore) knock over (literally) an armored car for a stash of bearer bonds. On the case is Detective Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), a troubled, angst-ridden veteran of the LAPD. Over the course of the film, McCauley and Hanna develop a strange sort of kinship, even as McCauley’s crimes increasingly raise the stakes and Hanna’s efforts to stop him become more and more desperate.
The action builds up for a solid two hours until a nearly catastrophic ‘final’ bank robbery results in one of the most vivid shoot-outs ever filmed. Writer/director Michael Mann (best known for his work on Miami Vice) paces the movie well, and he really puts the audience through the ringer by getting the adrenaline pumping like an oil well.
But why is this film 3 hours long, you ask? The answer lies in Mann’s multidimensional examinations of all the major characters, their wives, their children, and any other love interests who happen along. Thus over the course of the picture, we discover Hanna is in his third marriage and his wife’s ex-husband is a deadbeat. We learn at length about McCauley’s personal code: to have nothing in his life he can’t walk away from in 30 seconds flat if ‘the heat’ is coming. And when the heat does come, we see how it affects everyone…in depth. While these relationship subplots are mildly interesting, they seem completely out of place in the movie and, in the end, weigh the film down.
This aside, strong performances by the principals and some excellent bit parts by players like Hank Azaria, Tom Noonan, Natalie Portman, and Jon Voight make Heat a truly memorable film. Somewhat more difficult to figure out is Pacino, who takes his over-the-top, in-your-face screen presence to new heights, becoming almost cartoonish in his archetypal portrayal of the insanely driven cop. Altogether, the cast lends a lot of credibility to what would otherwise be another run-of-the-mill crime movie. And while the sometimes hard-to-follow script often demands too much of the viewer, this film is one that’s truly worth seeing.
The new special edition DVD and Blu-ray version of the film include commentary from Mann, plus 11 extra scenes and five featurettes on a second DVD. Highly recommended.