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Heat
1995 - R - 171 Mins.
Director: Michael Mann
Producer: Michael Mann
Written By: Michael Mann
Starring: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Jon Voight
Review by: John Ulmer
   
At the center of Michael Mann's "Heat" is a simple cop-and-robber story, but the film's understanding of its two leads, and their deep affinity and respect for each other, is what essentially propels the film into greatness.

It stars the two biggest names in Hollywood, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. For over thirty years, their performances have created critical milestones in acting. Although they both starred in Francis Ford Coppola's "Godfather" series, chronology prevented them from appearing on-screen together.

Over the years, their performances stirred the entire world. Pacino electrified with "Serpico," "Dog Day Afternoon," "Scarface," "Scent of a Woman," "Donnie Brasco," "The Insider"; De Niro impressed audiences and critics alike with "Taxi Driver," "The Deer Hunter," "Raging Bull," "Once Upon a Time in America," "The Untouchables," "Cape Fear," "GoodFellas," "A Bronx Tale," and "Casino." Both actors have won Best Actor Academy Awards, and have attracted fervent die-hard cinema fans. "Heat" marks their first -- and, to date, only -- film where they actually appear together in the same frame.

Their first meeting takes place in a small diner off a freeway. Their calmness and mutual respect is what separates it from a similar story that might have them involved in foot-and-gun chases for the entire running time. This diner confrontation is ultimately one of the major reasons the film impresses.

Pacino has been playing the same characters since "Scent of a Woman," frequently yelling, "Hoo-hah!" and randomly shouting. His recent role in "Angels in America" was the perfect example of this tiresome persona -- a great actor who is starting to become lost (De Niro still has it, as far as I'm concerned, but Pacino needs to be careful). But if it's any consolation, this sort of frantic performance works well in "Heat," resulting in the appearance of a tired cop who's been working on similar cases for far too long. Neil (De Niro), a criminal genius, is his perfect nemesis. Once he brings him down, his agenda will be fulfilled.

The film is described on the posters as a "Los Angeles crime saga," about a cop on the trail of a smart villain. The cop is Vincent (Pacino), a newly-married LAPD officer who takes great pride in his job. "It keeps me sharp," he tells his wife after she complains that he doesn't spend enough time with the family. To Vincent, there is no other life apart from his job.

Neil is planning to rip off a bank for millions of dollars. His last heist. He plans to settle down and raise a family, like his partner in crime (Val Kilmer) has already done with his wife (Ashley Judd). But you can't escape your past. Neil can only get so far before everything catches up with him. And, like a trapped animal, his only chance at survival is to attack the pursuer, which in this case happens to be Vincent.

It is rather unfortunate that Pacino and De Niro are compared to each other so often, since each actor brings something unique to their films. Pacino, with his increasingly raspy voice and occasionally over-the-top performances, is wilder than De Niro. His portrayal of Tony Montana in Brian DePalma's "Scarface" was intense, and that same raw intensity he displayed there is brought to every role he has played over the years.

In "Heat," he plays another intensely breezy, confident character. De Niro is once again the quieter, reserved character, saying little, observing, and controlling everyone around him with those penetrating eyes. He has a face that says, "I own you," and his intimidation is greater than anything he could ever express in words.

The ending of "Heat" is absolutely brilliant, touching and moving. Suffice to say, I will resist spoiling it -- but it's far more tender than you might ever imagine. The film is based on an earlier work of Mann's, called "L.A. Takedown," which is rumored to be included on the similarly-rumored Special Edition DVD.

"Heat" is masterful in the way it manages to balance the two most colossal stars of our time in a film that goes beyond the boundaries of crime thriller and into the realm of cult masterpiece. I do not know if Pacino and De Niro will ever team up again, but if they do, I'd be satisfied if the result is only half as good as "Heat."
 
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

 
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