The film`s script is a major achievement, because it succeeds in being both epic in scope and thorough in it`s characterisation of each character. On the bad side of the law, the film follows a band of thieves, led by master heistman Nick McCauley (De Niro), as they prepare on final coup before going out of business. However, their plan goes terribly wrong, and suddenly they are hunted for their lives. On the other side of the law, veteran cop Vincent Hanna (Pacino) finds in McCauley a nemesis, and his hunt for the band of master thieves will become his obsession. However, most fascinating in this script is the way it deals with the relationships of the people involved. Both master thief McCauley and master cop Hanna are loners, professionals whose lives are their jobs. However, Hanna is married, and McCauley, in spite of everything, falls in love. These are two relationships bound for destruction, and the way the script deals with them is admirable. Also exploited in the film is the attraction/repulsion relationship between cops and criminals. They are mutually inclusive: without one, the other would not exist. It`s fascinating to say the least. Finally, many supporting characters from both sides of the law are developped throughout the film, and the tangled web of relationships is complex and gives the film a rich tapestry of lives.
The acting crackles, as the film has got one of the best ensemble casts I`ve ever seen. Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, two of my favorite actors, are as close to perfection as one could possibly hope. They play on each other`s duality perfectly, and they create on of the most memorable pairs of ennemies on film. The supporting players are also excellent: Diane Venora and Amy Brennerman as the love interests of Pacino and De Niro`s characters, respectively; Val Kilmer and Ashley Judd as a couple whose criminal dealings will destroy them; Natalie Portman as Pacino`s stepdaughter. Tom Sizemore and Jon Voght finish it up as two hardcore criminals. Practically every performance feels genuine and complex, as much because of the script as because of the actors talent.
The direction is also worthy of mention. Michael Mann has a style that`s at once distinctive and interesting without being overtly theatrical. The camerawork and cinematography are excellent, with interesting camera angles, and a gritty, urban look. Handheld cameras are also used during the action sequences, along with a John Frankenheimer-style bumper-cam during a car chase. The film`s score is also excellent, complementing it perfectly.
I liked this movie. I really did. It has everything a film fan could dream of: a great script, a superb ensemble cast, and great direction. Furthermore, some scenes in this movie are bound for the history books. For example, Heat has what may be the greatest urban firefight in movie history, as robbers packing M-16 assault rifles fight it out against cops equally well armed.
But the scene that defines this movie is the one where Vincent Hanna (Pacino), tired of pussyfooting around, chases down McCauley (De Niro) on the freeway, stops him, and asks him to join him for a cup of coffee. At the coffee shop, they talk about their families and their personal lives, and, at the end of the conversation, Pacino states "You know, we are sitting here like a couple of regular fellows and if I have to go out there and put you down, I'll tell you, I won't like it. But if it's between you and some poor bastard whose wife you're gonna turn into a widow, buddy, you are going down.". And then McCauley replies: "There is a flip side to this coin. What if you do get me boxed in and I will have to put you down? Cause no matter what, you will not get in my way. We've been face to face, yeah. But I will not hesitate, not for a second.".
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