Al Pacino……….Lt. Vincent Hanna
Robert De Niro……….Neil McCauley
Val Kilmer……….Chris Shiherlis
Tom Sizemore……….Michael Cheritto
Diane Venora……….Justine Hanna
Ashley Judd……….Charlene Shiherlis
Mykelti Williamson……….Sergeant Drucker
Wes Studi……….Detective Casals
Dennis Haysbert……….Donald Breedan
William Fichtner……….Roger Van Zant
Natalie Portman……….Lauren Gustafson
If any one actor can match Robert De Niro’s acting resume, it’s Al Pacino. De Niro’s Jimmy Conway (Goodfellas is quoted as often as Pacino’s Tony Montana (Scarface). Both have multiple Oscar nominations; Pacino rates in with eight (One win for Best Actor in Scent of a Woman), while De Niro has two wins (Best Actor for Raging Bull, Best Supporting Actor in The Godfather Part II) on six nominations.
Both have legendary movies involving the mafia, as De Niro is known for Goodfellas, Mean Streets, Once Upon a Time in America and Casino to his credit. Pacino has Scarface, Donnie Brasco and The Godfather trilogy to fall back on. The first time De Niro and Pacino worked together in the same movie was The Godfather Part II, with Pacino as a rising Michael Corleone and De Niro as his father Vito Corleone in flashback sequences. The one thing that Pacino has to his credit is that he’s also been a good guy on occasion; De Niro tends to play the villain much more often than the hero. Pacino’s portrayal of Detective Frank Serpico earned him one of his eight Academy Award nominations, and in this same vein Pacino and De Niro step on to the silver screen opposed to each other in the thriller Heat.
In Heat, Pacino is Lt. Vincent Hanna, a lawman with a suspect past and De Niro is Neil McCauley, leader of a group of robbers, and the cat and mouse played between the two of them. It’s a case study of two men on opposite sides of the spectrum with similar lives but different lifestyles. Hanna is so possessed in his work that the world around him melts away. Hanna is the kind of detective so into his work, so much so that his career and his life are on and the same.
McCauley is a thief who works with Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer) and Michael Cheritto (Tom Sizemore), amongst others, and who believes that you should be able to vanish, to leave everything of your life, in an instant. He is obsessive, planning out everything to small details in order to be as effective as possible. McCauley’s team are professionals in what they do and how they do it; Chris and Michael have differing lifestyles outside of the job. Chris is a gambler whose wife (Ashley Judd as Charlene) wants him to do more than just be a robber who wastes all of his earnings. Michael is a consummate family man who uses his robbery proceeds to build a life for his family.
After an early robbery, Hanna goes after McCauley and his crew. In what becomes a game of chess, McCauley and Hanna do intelligence work on each other in order to better do their respective jobs. Hanna wants to find out who McCauley is and catch him in the act of a major robbery; McCauley is planning robberies with an ever-increasing level of danger associated with them, Hanna is taking more risk with his personal and professional life to bring them down. Throw in Jon Voight as one of De Niro’s associates and you have the substance of a very effective thriller.
The key to the movie is that Pacino and De Niro have to be great, and they are. For two guys who are playing the same type of character, with different motivations, they find little ways to make small differences seem much larger than they appear to be. Both men are prone to fits of anger, but De Niro is more of a quiet anger with fits of violence while Pacino is almost abusive in the same context. Both men know how to play off of each other in the scenes they share; the restaurant scene in particular is just amazing. De Niro and Pacino react and talk to each other as two guys in the same situation would; nothing is forced, the chemistry is just there and they read and react to each other on an amazing level. It feels like it’s an obsessive cop and an equally obsessive criminal, not two really great actors. Both men are so entrenched, so well versed in who they are, that it has a certain vibe to it that is just engrossing.
That’s a recurring theme in the movie. The actors in this movie all look and react like the type of people they play in reality do. Kilmer, Sizemore and De Niro all handle the weapons and situations like the professional criminals they play would. They are professional, they move in the gunfights and in the robberies like professionals, not actors. The sort of closed quarter and urban combat movement they do is almost identical to the kind that Special Forces and S.W.A.T teams do; Pacino and the police officer in the movie are just as solid as well. No one is moving like this is a movie, they are moving like this is a gunfight in real life and they are trying to stay alive.
It’s beautifully done, beautifully shot and a realistic thrill-ride of a movie that shows off the talent of everyone. Many of the same sort of camera shots and types of settings he would refine for Mann’s 2004 Collateral. Heat’s L.A is a grittier version than Collateral’s, but the style that Mann displayed so successfully last summer is seen here in a much more raw form.
If there is a standard bearer for police-thrillers, Heat is it.
Heat is a dark movie that has had a lot of issues in its’ release prior to now. First off it hasn’t had a good transfer, so this version has been cleaned up extensively and revamped to a very nice-looking picture. Secondly, the restaurant scene with De Niro and Pacino has been given the widescreen look so that its’ clearer that both are in the same scene; prior to it, the pan and scan of VHS and early DVD had left it almost ambiguous at best. The color contrast is much clearer in relation to the dark colors of Michael Mann’s Los Angeles.
The audio is cleaned up tons and amped up during the gun battles, but the problem is that it goes way too low during a lot of the dialogue scenes. It was a bit of a hassle to always be adjusting the volume on my surround sound for the Dolby 5.1 in order to hear it and then turning it down whenever the action started. When you get the volume right it sounds wonderful, but getting there is a hassle sometimes.
11 additional scenes
With the movie just under three hours, there are things that have to be cut out for length purposes. A lot of the deleted scenes don’t shed any new light on the main characters; they just fill in some of the blanks that are inferred in the movie. These are scenes that were expressly cut for time. There is nothing too outrageous or special, as Mann clearly left all of the prime meat for the movie in the final cut. It’s a sign of how much of a good editing job he did that the only things he had to take out were stuff that weren’t explicitly needed to tell the story.
Three theatrical trailers
Given all of the revamps involved in the movie itself, the trailers are cleaned up as well. They look better now than they did 10 years ago in the theatre.
True Crime – Inspirations for the movie
Now this is where the heat starts to turn on, pun intended. This documentary is a behind the scenes look at the cop and crook who inspired the main characters played by De Niro and Pacino. Art imitates life, it seems, as we get to see the real stories behind some of the key events in the movie. It’s a rare insight behind the real people who provided the source material for the characters of McCauley and Hanna. The cat and mouse game that Pacino and De Niro played is detailed in how it happened in life. It is also interesting to hear about how different areas of Chicago inspired the events and how Mann’s early idea of Los Angeles helped further shape the movie.
Crime Stories – History of the screenplay
Mann gives the audience a guided tour of the writing process of the screen. After initially writing this as a movie, Mann spent an enormous amount of time attempting to get this into production, even rewriting it as a television series to make this happen. It also details the creative process behind Mann’s writing of the script, how he labored over certain parts and changed a lot of it up with further research into his subject. Mann really shows his flair for detail that he would display in works after this; the way he discusses his script and the manner in which he finally got into production is fascinating on a lot of levels.
Into the Fire – Pre- and post-production
There was a reason why everything in the movie looked so true to life, and that’s detailed here. Mann goes through all of the training he did for everyone in the cast. Pacino and the police officers all trained in weapons, etc, with their real life counterparts no how to draw, fire, reload, etc. Same goes for De Niro and his crew, who trained with former members of the Special Forces (who were the backgrounds Mann envisioned his criminals having).
They also have the actors talk about their training, about how they worked for so long and so hard to get everything perfected before they even started shooting. Kilmer’s crowning achievement was that he crows about is that he trained so hard to be able to change a magazine in his machine gun so fast that the armed services still use clips from it to show how fast you should be able to reload as a professional soldier. Kilmer and the crew also used live ammunition in their training so that they would better know how to handle the weapons; they talk about how much it helped them use the weapons when they were blank, if only because it made them realize how they had to handle them to make it real as opposed to handling something that fired blanks (which has a much different feel both carrying and firing than with regular ammunition).
They also go into great detail about the gun fights, how they staged and prepped for each scene with cardboard cutouts, etc. The sheer amount of planning, detail and execution that went into the scenes is detailed; there’s a reason why everything looked and felt so good, it’s because they worked incredibly hard on it.
Pacino and De Niro – Anatomy of the on-screen conversation scene
Now this is a big reason to buy the special edition of Heat. This documentary is about the restaurant scene that featured Pacino and De Niro in their first camera time together, and if you ever want to find out the whys and hows that make these two the best actors of their generation then this is the thing to watch. Mann, De Niro and Pacino separately guide us through how they envisioned the scene and how they ended up filming it. De Niro suggested they don’t rehearse and just go for it, convincing Mann and Pacino to do it that way. Both men talk about the steps they used to get into character with Mann as almost a bystander to it all; both men reveal that it was a matter of chemistry, knowing just how to subtly react to one another’s motion. Mann provides a breakdown of the scene as well, pointing a lot of things that he was trying to do and show as well as how he shot the scene to pull it off. If there ever was a way to show how two amazing actors and a director with vision enough to let them dictate the scene can all come into play in an amazing manner then this is it.
Return to the Scene of the Crime – Revisiting LA ten years later
This is more of a historical perspective on the way they shot the movie than anything else. It’s interesting to note about how many of the camera angles and particular sequences that they shot they couldn’t do on location now because of stricter airport regulations in part due to 9/11. It’s a lot of reminiscing about the kinds of camera angles they needed and how they used the world around them, and how they explored Los Angeles in order to find places that were unique and hadn’t been filmed before. It’s an interesting look from the perspective of the crew on how certain scenes were envisioned and how the scenery helped influence the movie.