“Heat” was written and directed by Michael Mann. Released in 1995, this heist thriller follows the cat-and-mouse game between Detective Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) and thief mastermind Neil McCauly (Robert De Niro), whose crew is preparing for their final bank robbery.
This film’s strengths and weaknesses both stem from its nearly three hour runtime. On one hand, the length allows for all the lead characters to be properly fleshed out, and also makes the film feel like a sprawling crime epic. The pacing is quick enough to keep the audience invested throughout the three hours while not rushing through the plot points. “Heat” almost never bores.
However, after now seeing the film twice, it’s become very clear to me just how much of “Heat” can be cut. Firstly, the choice to give each of our three leads (Pacino, De Niro, and Val Kilmer as Neil’s right-hand man Chris) their own love interests was a giant mistake. The relationship between Neil and Eady worked well, particularly the idea that despite Neil’s growing love for Eady, he would still choose to abandon her immediately if he “felt the heat.” The other two relationships were totally unnecessary. Hanna’s failing marriage was a generic plot point, made worse by the inclusion of the stepdaughter who appears in the first ten minutes and doesn’t reappear for at least another hour.
Yet by far the weakest element of this film is the Chris character and his relationship with his wife. Kilmer’s a highly talented actor, but he has nothing to work with in the film. Chris is just generic thief guy with little to no personality, made even more boring by his own failing marriage – by the way, why are there two marriage-falling-apart subplots in this movie? If those two characters were erased entirely, the film would be tighter, cleaner, and more efficient.
Another issue with the film is the music, which is embarrassingly subpar. It is utterly generic and uninspired, essentially an assortment of copy/paste cues from other ’90s films.
I know it sounds like I loathe this film based on these criticisms, but I actually think it’s a generally solid movie. Michael Mann is an extraordinary action filmmaker who injects a powerful, aggressive energy into this movie. The action sequences, particularly the bank shootout, are perfectly choreographed and edited. Truly some of the best edge-of-your-seat entertainment. “Heat” has such an enthralling flare, which is why the runtime – while certainly 30-50 minutes too long for this kind of flick – doesn’t hamper the film too much.
The performances here are equally incredible. Pacino is at his peak here, giving all the boisterous Pacino-isms we want. He has the ability to deliver lines that aren’t actually funny on the page in hilarious ways. De Niro is equally great in a more subdued and cold performance.
“Heat” is a very strong film but isn’t as great as it needs to be to earn its stellar reputation. The action, editing, lead performances, and direction are all some of the best of the entire heist genre, but the film has some legitimate flaws. When looking back on immensely applauded films like “Heat,” it’s important to push the legacy aside and form your own opinion. I know I’m somewhat of a contrarian here, but the beauty of film is the discourse and variety of opinions. I just happen to not see what many others see in “Heat.”