(Check out the list so far)
The Movie: Heat (1995)
One Sentence Plot Summary: It’s a battle of icons as Michael Mann brings together two of the most important actors of the last 50 years on opposite sides of the law and shows the moral complexities involved.
Why It’s on the List: Michael Mann is almost an underrated action director, in part because his best work came in the late 1980s, 1990s, and early part of the 2000s. The last decade has not been kind to him. In fact, the same could also be said about his two lead actors, Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. If there was a Hall of Fame for actors, these two would still be first ballot, but they’ve also done their fair share of duds. Both men have had moments where they seemingly are parody of themselves. Heat was one of the last movies these two made in the prime of their careers. Mann also surrounded them with an outstanding supporting cast.
Heat works on a dramatic level and has some of outstanding action sequences. Even though McCauley and Hanna are against each other, Mann does a great job making the audience feel sympathy for both. These are flawed men and contribute a great deal to the idea of the anti-hero narrative. Getting these two together was a big deal in 1995. Even though they were both in Godfather, Part II, they never shared screentime together. Here, they only share one scene with extended dialogue before the ending chase sequence, and contrived as it is, there is an electricity to their scene that isn’t there at any other point in the movie.
As the writer and director, Mann provides audiences with a huge sprawling story with a lot of characters but a heavy focus on the leads. There are those small moments with other characters. Dennis Haysbert is treated so poorly by his boss that he decided going back to crime is a better alternative. Chris and Charlene don’t have the healthiest relationship, but in the end Chris ends up in a better position than McCauley. Finally, poor Eady.
Heat was a late addition to this list, but I still think it works in 2020 and is a great representation of the greatness of the director and actors.
*I mean, the female characters don’t exactly have a lot of agency, but that’s a problem that exists in almost every movie on this list.
MVP: Michael Mann’s output lately has been sparse and not great. At 77, who knows if we’ll ever get classic Michael Mann? This is a perfect representation of what he does well. Everything from the casting to the sound design is stellar. I always think about the big bank robbery that takes place about halfway into the movie, one of the more famous setpieces. The way it looks to the way the bullets echo across the streets gives this an epic feeling. There have been a lot of attempts at crime dramas. Many of them have even tried a similar formula. Some have been successful (The Dark Knight). Others (like American Gangster) have been less so.
Best Performance: Giving it to both leads as they together make this an epic crime classic. Al Pacino is unhinged and I love it. His brand of acting the last 30 years might not be for everyone, and even I think he takes it too far sometimes, but this covered the gambit of emotions. A big performance like this in a move that’s almost three hours long certainly insures we won’t be bored. I appreciate the approach to this character because Vincent Hanna is not a good guy, and Pacino never makes him out to be “one of the good ones.” DeNiro gets to be more nuanced and even has a love story. He also gets some of the best actual lines. As much as people think of DeNiro as a yeller and screamer in these crime movies, he can also be subtle and quiet when needed as well. This movie cannot work without both men. It’s an equal proposition.
Best Quote: “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.” – Neil McCauley
Is there a sequel? No, but it certainly has influenced a lot of movies over 30 years.