As Michael Mann tackles a sequel-prequel, it’s always good to come back to Heat, a major cornerstone of crime thrillers and heist films that comes out in 4K. More than a cult feature film, the latter still remains unbeatable in its category today, while remaining the emblematic work of its author. Back to this duel at the top between two icons of Cinema.
It’s one of those films whose name instantly resonates in the minds of all moviegoers, and Heat is no exception.. A true marker of the 90s, this film by Michael Mann still remains today a thriller of a mastery and a rather mind-blowing singularity. A timeless classic, whose origins are ultimately more complex than “the film where De Niro and Pacino meet”.
The rise of Michael Mann
Indeed, after a fruitful television career (miami vice in particular) or even several flop at the box office (we will remember the fiasco The Black Fortress or the yet successful Manhunter), Mann will find himself on studio radars thanks to the surprise success of the Last of the Mohicans. A popular period film, yet quite far from the image we have of the director (namely an urban filmmaker and thriller aficionado).
Whereas Thief was his first film for the big screen in 1981, the idea of Heat was already topical as early as 1979. For lack of means, he will shoot an aborted series pilot 10 years later, which will be renamed LA Takedownand will constitute in a way the draft of Heat. And for those who lived in a small cave, what is this film with a 4-star cast lasting almost 3 hours?
Heat recounts the conflict between Vincent Hanna (a veteran LAPD homicide detective played by Al Pacino) and Neil McCauley (an ex-con and seasoned robber played by Robert De Niro), as this game of cat and mouse ripples through their lives and those around them. A simple postulate, but more complex in writing and execution than it seems!
Police saga in 1 film
Of course, the meeting between Pacino (The Godfather, scarface, The Impasse) and DeNiro (raging bull, Casino, Taxi Driver) was already enough to make our brains boil (and this years before The Irishman), both representing two important facets of 70’s-80’s American cinema. Similar in every way, though each on one side of the law, Hanna and McCauley are two characters in total harmony with the other protagonists of Mann’s filmo : isolated, aspiring to an ideal (via an ideological or existentialist loophole) and the best in their field.
Two sides of the same coin, therefore, each as methodical as they are similar in their inability to manage their private lives. This element is of course crystallized in their famous dialogue at the dinner (pivotal scene in the middle of the plot) where these two Abel & Cain discuss their philosophy via a skilfully orchestrated shot-reverse shot (Mann never wanted to include long shot, which would have distracted the viewer according to him).
In addition to two behemoths at the top of their game, we must also salute the narrative ambition of the projectwhich already foreshadows the ambition of future major series or mini-series of the genre (Sopranos, TheWire, etc) in its way of telling behind the scenes and placing almost all of the focus on the intimate side of the characters. Thereby, Heat takes his time to unfold his story, showing the preparations for the central heist, presenting (more or less quickly but always efficiently) the various secondary characters, the progress of the police investigation and especially the part given to women.
Whether they are Ashley Judd, Amy Brenneman or Diane Venora, the companions of the Pacino-De Niro-Kilmer trio are equally essential components of the narrative canvas depicted by the director: true counterweights to their schizoid male counterpart, and taking an important place during the last third of the footage. The opportunity to address the mind-blowing masterful staging of the good Michael, making us completely rediscover the City of Angels.
In the Heat of the Night
Helped by his cinematographer Dante Spinotti, Michael Mann abandoned the 80’s neon aesthetic (which he largely defined from Thief) to embrace a more raw and visceral aesthetic. The pictorial research and the care given to the frame is obviously always present, while the filmmaker captures the urban atmosphere like no one else (Los Angeles is as it has never been seen, and exactly as it is finally) via blue nights (covered by a certain The Dark Knight), using the scope to show city lights, or other immersive handheld shots.
The highlight being of course the famous robbery/shootout scene in pleine avenue de LA (on the thunderous “ Strength Marker by Brian Eno), which today serves as a case study and a lesson in cutting, sound design and camera placement. A piece of bravery still unequaled today, which almost acts as a climax halfway through the film.
Much more than a thriller or a heist film, Heat can boast of being a real human drama, even allowing himself parentheses of pure emotion for a few secondary roles (Danny Trejo and a very young Natalie Portman in the lead) or completely tertiary (this sequence where Pacino must console a mother saddened by the death of her daughter, killed by a chilling Waingro /Kevin Gage). Small details that make Heat a great coherent and magnificent whole, until its sumptuous finale without any dialogue, concluding with the no less superb ” God Moving Over the Face of the Waters by Moby.
A 4Klassic of the 7th Art
Finally, Heat is a cinema classic, which will have redefined a genre, in addition to completely establishing the name of its director at the table of the great American filmmakers of recent years.. Michael Mann will certainly remain affiliated with this film, while no other feature film of the genre has really managed to shed its influence (even Grand Theft Auto IV and V paid homage to the film in their heist scenes).
The recent release in 4K makes it possible to appreciate this masterpiece via absolutely impeccable image sharpness and sharpness, with the only downside being the daytime sequences which seem duller than in the original calibration (still present on the first blu-ray version). Not enough to sulk his pleasure nevertheless, especially since the bonuses are loaded (audio commentary by the director, masterclass with the cast, making-of…), and that Michael Mann seems to have decided to make a sequel-prequel…
Heat is available on 4K Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD
Michael the Mann
With Heat, Michael Mann laid a veritable white stone in the history of cinema, with this urban thriller turning into a great drama of neurotic figures. More than an action film, a robbery film or a detective film, we have here a timeless and still unequaled masterpiece.
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Blu-ray release – Review Heat: the quintessence of thrillers
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