R...and for almost all the reasons. This movie is violent. It is '90s violent. There is a lot of gunfire and murder in this. It's so odd how visceral the gunfire is in this movie. I've seen a lot of shoot-em-up movies, but this one somehow seems more grounded, making the over-the-top violence only the more intense. Every other word is the f-word, too. I felt awkward whenever I was watching this movie because I knew that if someone came to visit me, the f-word would be blaring. There's blood. There's death. There's language. There's sex. I mean, hard R, guys.
DIRECTOR: Michael Mann
I get to cross another one off the list. This is another one of these movies that I claimed that I saw to win an argument, but I hadn't until today. I knew enough about it before to claim that this is one of Michael Mann's few great movies. I was right, by-the-way. This movie is super great. It is even great in spite of an almost three hour runtime. Yeah, three hours is a lot for me, especially when it isn't an epic or a fantasy movie. But if you were worried, my talking points were on the money about this movie. I'm really glad I saw it. I got really lucky when I was talking with authority about Heat.
If I didn't make it clear from context, I normally don't like Michael Mann. I think my opinion has shifted a bit after seeing Heat. I liked Collateral, but I never cared for some of his other films that were considered classics like Manhunter or Last of the Mohicans. I always thought that he was a bit full of himself and hid his flaws in jargon. That assessment might not be completely accurate. He does love his accuracy, at least a perceived reality of accuracy. These movies, Heat included, are really entrenched in using terminology and trying to attach this behind-the-curtain to something that is fundamentally an action thriller. I noticed this when I gave the Miami Vice film he made a fair shot. I really tried getting through it. I really did. It was one of the most boring films I had ever seen because it was this police action drama that was just bogged down with self-importance. But after seeing Heat, I think it was more of a matter that Mann was living in his own shadow. He had made the original Miami Vice television show and he wanted to break it free from the constraints of prime time television in the eighties. He tried to infuse it with some of the elements of what made his greatest picture, Heat, great. Heat takes itself remarkably seriously. It is never funny. It never really tries to be funny and that's a gutsy move. The way that Heat was marketed was that it was just this giant action movie. It kind of is, but I would never want to lump it in with other action movies. Rather, Heat seems to be in a genre of its own. (Okay, that's not true. I'm sure Training Day and movies of that ilk would probably make the list, but I want to give Heat props here.) There's this tightrope that the movie walks that is wildly impressive. Remember, this film is almost three hours long. People get bored pretty easily. But Mann really manages to hone this movie down to something really and truly spectacular. It is an action movie, but it is an action movie with a phenomenal amount of depth. I have to disagree with the Netflix description of the movie. Netflix touts this that there isn't much that separates the criminal from the crimefighter. I think that they are trying to be glib about a much deeper concept that only begins at similarity. That's the stuff I want to explore a bit.
Hanna and McCauley are kindred spirits, but they are more along the lines of opposite sides of the same coin. I know, now I'm being glib and cliche to boot. It's really weird what Mann has created here. These are two men that would be friends if they didn't fundamentally agree with what each other was doing. There's this mutual respect. Heat offers me a scene that is plucked free from the constraints of reality and addresses something that I've always wanted to see. Jonathan Demme did it a bit with The Silence of the Lambs, but there was a weird power dynamic with Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling. Rather, Mann has his duo on an equal playing field in a coffee shop. This scene makes the movie. The rest is great, but it is all in service of this scene that could never really happen. A frustrating thing / a naive thing that I always want to hear from reality is to have polar opposites having a civil discussion about ideas that the other cannot grasp without getting angry. It is a bit cheap in the long run. I think that Heat is aware of that. McCauley is still an awful human being (which I want to discuss! Don't let me forget.) but he has earned the respect of Hanna. I'm going to be critical here because it is the way my mind works. It isn't something I want changed in the movie because I like the dynamic the way it is, but I don't like how the movie almost glosses over the evils done in this movie. I like when a movie has the bad guy as the protagonist. This isn't that movie, so don't comment on that. But when Walter White or Tony Soprano do something bad, we're aware that it's evil. We root for it because it is shocking to us and it creates interesting characters, but it is clear that the bad guy is a bad guy. There are moments when Robert DeNiro and Val Kilmer come across as almost Robin Hoodian, when they aren't that in any way. The reason that Pacino is so obsessed with catching these guys, outside the fact that he's wired that way, is that these guys are murdering folks for their own financial gain. Pacino even calls out DeNiro for that. (Sorry, I'm using actor names. It's easier. Besides, Danny Trejo's character is actually named "Trejo.") But despite all the violence and evil, there's still something remarkably romantic about thievery at the end. I don't love that.
I have to complain about one thing, though. This movie is at the height of Pacino being Pacino. I know that when people do the Pacino impersonation (HOO-AH!), they are doing Pacino in The Devil's Advocate. I know that. But this is right around this time. Pacino and DeNiro together is the film you always wait for. It's so good. But it's weird to see DeNiro doing this nuanced performance and Pacino just Pacinoing it up the entire time. There's nothing nuanced. There are just some absolutely bananas deliveries going on by Al Pacino throughout the movie. Sure, these deliveries are interesting and high energy, but it seems like he's not working with his scene partners in anything. It is more along the lines where he's trying to draw attention to himself. I wonder if Mann liked that or not. I know that he works with Pacino again in The Insider, so he couldn't have hated it. It just is very prevalent in this period of his work and Heat really has a lot of that going on. But you know whose performance I absolutely was taken aback by? Danny Trejo! Danny Trejo, like Pacino, has a very specific style of acting that carries him through a lot of his work. Honestly, it is Machete. He has become that character in lots of things. When he's on The Flash, he's a reality hopping Machete. By-the-bye, Robert Rodriguez? Part IV? That's a freebie from me to you. You're welcome. Trejo is just being a dude here. He's not mugging. He's actually really good for the role and it is a little different from what I'm used to seeing from him. I really dig it. I also think that this might be Val Kilmer's best actual performance. I know that a lot of people love him in Tombstone and my personal favorite performance is in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. But in terms of just showing off his talent, it might go to Heat.
I'm really weirded out by the marriage angle in this movie. One of the major messages that this movie presents is that the obsessed tend to drive the people they love away. Pacino's character is on his third marriage and that is quickly spiraling out of control. I don't know if this is the most nuanced version of that story that could happen. A lot of that comes from the fact that it is a movie and not a TV show. I know, I'm actually advocating for a longer than three-hour movie. But hear me out. The movie wants to show how marriages fall about little by little. Spouses are cool with small slights at the time, but these slights eventually build up. Justine is very light-switchy in this movie. She goes from being reasonable with her expectations to just absolutely nuts. It is about communication and being present when people are available. But there are times when Pacino communicates (admittedly in his Pacino delivery) why he has a hard time sharing. It seems like they are growing around these moments. But in the next scenes, she does things that intentionally sabotage the marriage. We're not talking about small slights either. The choices that she makes shows her as an absolutely toxic individual (which may be a thing in reality, but the movie doesn't really establish that dynamic to them early in the film) and it wouldn't matter how present Pacino's character would have to be, she still has that inside of her. Also, the movie escalates Natalie Portman's character to a level that really requires a little more nuance. You know something bad was going to happen to her due to her anxiety, but that seemed to come out of left field.
I loved this movie. Like, I loved this movie way more than I thought and I kind of get why it keeps on making lists for favorite films. There are some nitpicky stuff, to be sure, but I don't really want my changes to be made. The movie is such a delicate balance of stuff that the changes would just throw the important stuff out the window. I kind of feel bad for Michael Mann now. I really think that this movie is impossible to do twice, but he seems to want to do it again. I might not roll my eyes at Michael Mann on a movie trailer now. Like DeNiro's character, he's kind of earned my respect.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.