Heat (United States, 1995)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Pacino meets De Niro. It has the sound of a classic screen moment. These actors - two of the best in the business for more than twenty-five years - have previously appeared in the same picture only once (The Godfather II), but, due to the split-timeline nature of the script, they never interacted. Now, in Heat, writer/director Michael Mann (The Last of the Mohicans) has contrived a cinematic intersection in their careers ("contrived" being the operative word), and the result is, unfortunately, a colossal disappointment.

Given the lofty status of its headlining stars, Heat could have been the standout film of the 1995 holiday movie season - but it isn't. In fact, not only is it not a great movie, but it's not even an especially good one. At best, it's a serviceable cops-and-robbers thriller with a running time that drags on for about twice as long as it needs to. Someone should have told Mann that if he was going to make a routine movie, he should have kept it to a reasonable length. I lost track of how many times I checked my watch during the nearly three interminable hours it took Heat to play itself to a predictable conclusion of a chase scene and a shoot-out.

There are too many characters, and the script wants to spend time filling in background for each of them. The first problem is that all the character-building information is cliched and uninteresting. Worse still, the exposition kills any momentum built by Heat's best scenes - the heists. Some background on the main adversaries - Pacino's officer Vincent Hanna and De Niro's bad guy Neil McCauley -- is obviously necessary, but it all drags.

About forty minutes of Heat is involving. The rest varies from humdrum to tedious. That's not a very good success rate. The ballyhooed meeting between Pacino and De Niro (which takes place in a cafe) should have radiated tension and raw energy. Instead, it's pretty average. Neither of the actors gives a noteworthy performance. They're going through the motions, picking up paychecks. Not that great emoting would have made much difference. Mann's script is not meant for stunning thespian displays. The dialogue is pedestrian, and, because of the noticeable lack of intensity, the cafe tete-a-tete might as well have featured Jeff Daniels and Ed Begely.

The basic storyline is familiar. Vincent is a police officer investigating a series of crimes committed by Neil's group of trained, experienced robbers. Now, with the cops closing in, the criminals have decided to call it quits after one more big-time job. Meanwhile, both men - good guy and bad guy - are having personal problems. Vincent's marriage is falling apart and Neil, after decades of loneliness, has finally found a woman with whom he connects. All of these elements are, of course, brought crashing together for the final act.

The cast is top-notch, as are most of the performances. Tom Sizemore (True Romance) plays one of Neil's right-hand men; Val Kilmer (Batman Forever) is another. In the spouse department, Ashley Judd (Ruby in Paradise) is underused (again) as Kilmer's wife, Diane Venora is matched with Pacino, and Amy Brenneman plays De Niro's girlfriend. Also on hand are Jon Voight, Wes Studi, Denis Haysbert, and (in a truly thankless part) Natalie Portman (the girl from The Professional).

When all is said and done, about the only reason to see Heat is for the "big" meeting. It's not much, but it's all this movie really has to offer. There's action here, but it's nothing special, and the long stretches of banal dialogue and formula plotting mute the impact of the staccato, bullet-laden bursts of energy. Another 1995 title might be more apt for this particular motion picture - instead of Heat, try Smoke.

Heat (United States, 1995)

Director: Michael Mann
Cast: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Diane Venora, Amy Brenneman, Tom Sizemore, Jon Voight, Ashley Judd, Wes Studi
Screenplay: Michael Mann
Cinematography: Dante Spinotti
Music: Elliot Goldenthal
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
Run Time: 2:52
U.S. Release Date: 1995-12-15
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1