• Heat is both the summation of Michael Mann’s previous efforts, and an artist at his clear peak. After his biggest financial success in 1992’s The Last of the Mohicans, he had the juice to go back to his urban jungle—cops vs. thieves—and do it with the long-awaited meeting of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro on screen (the two had been dancing around each other for decades after working together, but separately, in The Godfather: Part II). Mann here does not look to tell a cop versus thief story—he looks to tell THE cop versus thief story—on an epic canvas that no one had done before.
  • Pacino plays Lt. Vincent Hanna and De Niro plays Neil McCauley. They are on opposite sides of the law but have very much in common. They are both so dedicated to their respective crafts that it rises to the level of art. There is a clear admiration and mutual respect between the two.

Mann here does not look to tell a cop versus thief story—he looks to tell THE cop versus thief story—on an epic canvas that no one had done before.

Kurosawa’s High and Low is mentioned by a few critics for taking the crime genre to the top of the cinematic art form…. if Kurosawa’s masterpiece spends roughly half the film in Mifune’s character’s grand apartment— I want a movie that takes place entirely here in McCauley’s place

  • Mann staked his claim to the mantle of one of the art form’s greatest action auteurs with the real effect set piece work. The opening heist, the sound design, the semi-truck—clearly influenced the likes of Christopher Nolan. There is no The Dark Knight without Heat.

Both Hanna and McCauley have their crews (or posses if you want to call this an urban western) of professionals in sharp suits. This blocking of the characters faces is similar to a shot of Madeleine Stowe, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Russell Means near the very end of The Last of the Mohicans (Mann’s previous effort to Heat in 1992).

  • After 10+ viewings you do wonder about some small plotting artifices like whether McCauley would have hired Waingro (played by a haunting Kevin Gage) to begin with? But, as Mann shows us by the time the 170-minute running time, McCauley does not always take his own advice about making the shrewd decision.

despite the running time and sprawling ensemble– Mann pauses to craft these sublime compositions throughout

  • The 21-minute mark has one of the greatest one-minute segments in 1990s cinema. This is the blue day for night scene at McCauley’s home. First, there is the gun on the coffee table (above)- a phenomenal photograph, then De Niro’s McCauley holds for a sublime cinematic painting in front of a wall of windows in his home overlooking the sea. The cool sheen of the home tells you about his financial successes as a brilliant thief and meticulous nature—but the scene and image is also a way for Mann to portray McCauley’s melancholic isolation. Mann gives you another look at the emptiness he feels when he dines with his crew and they all have a loved one with them except for McCauley.

Don Siegel has a similar shot in Dirty Harry, but I also think you have the mention the cove sequences and sapphire color in Melville’s Army of Shadows as well.

  • It is a Nashville or Short Cuts like ensemble drama in many ways with double-digit characters getting their story told. In no more than 3-4 one-minute scenes., Mann is able to brilliant portray the struggle of Dennis Haysbert’s character—and he is not even introduced into 40+ minutes into the film. Natalie Portman’s young Lauren her own backstory and arc as well- both an isolated mini-drama, and part of the grander tapestry.
  • Mann makes a point of showing the domestic disputes of Val Kilmer’s character back-to-back with Pacino’s characters- both sides of the law again- the duality.

De Niro’s McCauley with Amy Brenneman’s Eady overlooking Los Angeles (and this is one of the great Los Angeles movies) and the night skyline. McCauley brings up Figi and the iridescent algae as Elliot Goldenthal’s guitar-laden score reverberates.

  • If you are discussing the collision of acting artists in Pacino and De Niro you have to give the edge to De Niro here as Pacino blinks first. They are both excellent, but Pacino’s improvisations often distract, he is singing, “I’m Donald Duck” and “get killed walking your doggy” – it just needs to be just reined in a little (you’ll notice the theatrics are downplayed in the marvelous coffee shop scene with De Niro). I love a good larger than life, drug-induced (cocaine addict according to Pacino), swaggering character—but this just needs to be dialed back.
  • Operatic at times—Pacino’s Hanna embraces the murder victim’s mother—the electric guitar carrying the drama of these colliding lives.

The diner scene meeting of the two acting gods is from the 90-95 minute mark. Mann mostly stays out of the way capturing it in shot, reverse-shot, close-ups to let them work. I’ll say it- I think there’s a little bit of a missed opportunity here even though it is a splendid scene, and the two actors couldn’t have asked for a better film to bring the two of them together.

The bank heist set-piece is at the 102-minute mark. The sound design is justifiably legendary. No shootout had sounded like this before. The music score (which magnificently drapes most of the film) drops out, there is glass shattering, the gunshots seem to rattle the screen… towards the end of the film with the final duel, the airport sound design will leave your jaw on the floor as well.

  • The narrative is just a smooth crime drama machine in motion—writing that would make any great writer jealous like “for me, the action is the juice”.

Mann utilizes these gorgeous tight shallow focus close-ups during the final meeting of cop and thief.

The final frame at the 166-minute mark with Pacino’s Hanna embracing McCauley is held—an absolute stunner of a composition that fittingly ends this masterpiece.