Films and their legacy are sometimes built on reputation alone. That reputation can be a performance, a soundtrack, dodgy or amazing special effects or a key scene. A scene that is so notable or notorious that it begins to overshadow the rest of the film, either destroying a passable, decent movie or actually making a film seem better than it actually is.
Heat has that reputation for good reason. Robert De Niro and Al Pacino are the epitome of acting heavyweights. They are true screen legends and between them have some of the greatest performances. De Niro is amazing in Goodfellas, Casino and steals Scorsese’s Mean Streets. Al Pacino has The Godfather, Dog Day Afternoon and Scent of a Woman. By the time Michael Mann wanted to make Heat, these two actors were at the top of their game and the thought of them sharing screen time is enough to excite even the most passive of movie-goers.
The scene where they finally meet, face-to-face, and have the confrontation between De Niro’s thief and Pacino’s cop is incredible. If it was scripted, it’s brilliantly acted, if it wasn’t then it’s amazingly improvised. I think both these actors are great and watching them play off each other, react to each others sly remarks and “one-upmanship” makes for the best scene in the film by far.
That becomes the issue though. This scene would get into the top ten in a lot of “best ever scene” lists on reputation alone. Pacino and De Niro are great and the message and story of the scene is fantastic too. The problem is, the film felt like it was designed purely to bring these two men together. Everything built to this confrontation and then the rest was the result of this confrontation.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing but when your film is almost three hours long, it begins to feel like a drag. If I create a film that is three hours, I want to fill that film with enough interesting, focused, relentless story-telling that the duration seems to fly past. This is Michael Mann though so some scenes are long, drawn-out, intense moments. It has some fantastic action sequences, the shoot-out in the final third of the film is executed brilliantly, but other than the “cat and mouse” between De Niro and Pacino, this film doesn’t really stand-out.
I just didn’t care enough about Pacino’s cop. Pacino cruised through this film, relying on charm, style and a well placed, shouted line. That’s not necessarily a criticism because this is the magic of Pacino, who has loud intensity that no one else can rival. It just wasn’t enough to keep me focused on his story.
De Niro gets the better of the film. His character is intense, complicated and cool. He makes you root for the villain and criminal and I actually wanted him to succeed. When the two actors meet in the diner, I felt myself siding with De Niro rather than the “good guy.” This could be because De Niro’s character felt a bit more developed or maybe it goes back to the fact that I prefer De Niro to Pacino overall but I wanted to see more of Robert than I did Al.
Heat is a slick film which is flawless in the story-telling and the way it is shot but like many other films which want to tell a story involving multiple, developed characters, its slightly overlong and I felt myself caring more about one of the characters, De Niro, than I did the other. This meant that when the film focused back to Pacino, I felt myself becoming distracted and conscious of the time and length of the film. A common complaint I have with “epic” films is always whether the length can be justified and with Heat, I’m not sure it can.
Overall, Heat is a well shot, brilliantly acted film that has one of the greatest cinematic scenes ever captured on camera. It has an epic feel and is special for any film fans but the combination of De Niro and Pacino gives this film an unfair lift. It is overlong in places, it develops some characters far too much and could have been at least half an hour shorter. Still, that restaurant scene is incredible!
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)