Fifty Shades of Cinema: 1995 – Heat

Fifty Shades of Cinema continues with Jonathon Dabell looking at Heat starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.

The Contenders

Fifty Shades Of Cinema reaches 1995, another year of cinema greats. What to pick for our Film Of The Year? Choices… choices. David Fincher delivers one of the greatest cop thrillers of the ‘90s with the dark and grisly Se7en; Bryan Singer serves up a similarly excellent crime piece with the razor-sharp The Usual Suspects. There’s futuristic thrills and spills aplenty in both Kathryn Bigelow’s turn-of-the-millennium actioner Strange Days and Terry Gilliam’s clever time-leaping fantasy Twelve Monkeys. Family movies are nicely represented by a couple of absolute gems – the first Toy Story from Disney-Pixar, the second the wonderful Babe about a pig who wants to be a sheepdog. Nicolas Cage is sensational in Mike Figgis’s powerhouse study of alcoholism Leaving Las Vegas; Anthony Hopkins virtually becomes the title character in Oliver Stone’s biopic Nixon; Sean Penn faces his final few hours on Death Row in the moving Dead Man Walking; and there’s glamour and violence for Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s crime epic Casino. Michelle Pfeiffer attempts to control and inspire the class from hell in Dangerous Minds; Mel Gibson goes to war against the English in historical epic Braveheart; Tom Hanks and co. are stranded in space in the brilliant Apollo 13; and there’s romance for Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep in The Bridges Of Madison County. Larry Clark’s Kids provides a shocking insight into the drug and sex filled existence of some American teenagers; John Travolta finds his way into the cutthroat movie industry in Get Shorty; and Ang Lee serves up a sumptuous period piece with Sense And Sensibility. Finally there’s double drama on the European continent – firstly Ken Loach’s Spanish Civil War story Land And Freedom; secondly Harvey Keitel’s emotionally challenging Greek odyssey in Ulysses’ Gaze. For our Film Of The Year 1995, we turn our attention to a masterful and notably under-rated crime epic – Michael Mann’s utterly compelling Heat. 


“Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in thirty seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner,” states master criminal Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) in this compelling and richly layered crime masterpiece from director Michael Mann.  Not to be outdone in the terrific quotes stakes, his adversary – dedicated, overworked and angst-ridden cop Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) – tells him: “if I’m there and I gotta put you away, I won’t like it. But I tell you, if it’s between you and some poor bastard whose wife you’re gonna turn into a widow… brother, you are going down.”

Heat is a film about two very similar men from different sides of the tracks. Two massively charismatic, single-minded and ruthlessly brilliant men – one a supremely disciplined bank robber, the other a cop with a whole heap of issues cluttering his private and professional life – coming face to face in a thrilling battle of wills.

It’s so much more besides too. At almost 3 hours in length, the film introduces and develops a vast array of characters and sub-plots, examining with melancholy moodiness and great perception the wider attitude of modern society towards good and evil, the honest life versus the life of crime. It never feels like a 3-hour movie – everything seems so absorbing and involving that the time just slips by effortlessly.

Career criminal Neil McCauley and his gang end up having to kill three guards during a heist on an armoured van in L.A. due to the ‘loose cannon’ actions of a newcomer to their ranks, the violent and unpredictable Waingro (Kevin Gage). L.A. cop Vincent Hanna is assigned to nail the gang before they strike again.

As the two adversaries begin to get closer to each other, learning more about how each man operates and what makes the other tick, it becomes apparent that there is much mutual respect between them. Hanna confesses that his life is a mess due to his dedication to the job and his failings and a husband and father; McCauley admits that his unwavering need for discipline makes it impossible for him to lead a normal, relaxed existence, where he can go about his business without fearfully looking over his shoulder at every turn.

Following a bloody bank heist in which men on both sides are killed, Hanna tracks McCauley to LA International Airport, where he is planning to make a clean break of it with his new girlfriend Eady (Amy Brenneman). Before he can make good his escape, he has unfinished business to dish out to the treacherous Waingro… an essential duty as far as McCauley is concerned, but also an uncharacteristic delay which gives Hanna one final chance to nail his man before he slips away forever.

There are few films which can match the fantastic dialogue and beautifully controlled tone of Heat. It’s such an articulate film, morally ambiguous and complex, made by adults for adults. How the film was overlooked as it was during ‘awards season’ is really beyond belief… it’s far too good to have been so blatantly ignored.

Individual scenes are quite sensational, such as the thundering street gun-battle between McCauley’s escaping robbers and the cops, and the genuinely sad climactic shootout in which one of these two huge personalities finally guns down the other. But amidst all the epic noise and violence, the finest scene of all features the two men discussing their respective lives and career-paths over a coffee. It’s a magical cinematic moment, as two of the century’s finest actors exchange crackling dialogue with a knowing twinkle in their eyes – a mutual appreciation for the other’s reputation – sharing the screen, and a coffee-shop table, for the first time in their careers.

There’s really little else that can be said about Heat. The best plan of action is to simply watch it and allow yourself to succumb to its remarkable spell. Rest assured, you will not be disappointed. This is truly one of the titans of the crime genre – a flawless film; one of the greats!

FMV Rating *****

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