The SMunday Review: Heat

Monday 8 May (2006)

heat is one of the best action dramas ever

(Shit. I forgot to do a review yesterday. Thanks to Dave's sardonic comments, I remembered, and here is a rare and unique SMunday Review for you instead.)

I remember seeing Heat when it was first out on video. I was about eleven or twelve, and I'd basically rent out any movie which had Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme or Robert De Niro in. I was no true cinephile back then, you understand, I just liked watching fights and explosions. Thus, I didn't really like Heat all that much – it wasn't a patch on Street Fighter: The Movie, which was packed to the gills with fight scenes. Ahh, the ignorance of youth.

Rewatching Heat now that I'm all grown up, mature and pretentious is a completely mind-blowing experience. The movie is mostly famous for being the only film which has Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in it at the same time (The Godfather 2 doesn't count because they didn't actually share any screentime) but there's only one scene where the two of them get to act face to face, nothing but dialogue. In terms of plot that's fine; Pacino is a cop and De Niro is a bankrobber, so why would they spend any time together?

Despite this blatant difference in the two roles, the characters are in many ways very similar. They are both total professionals, fully committed to their work – 'the best', as they say. Throughout the movie we get to see De Niro and his crew (including a great performance by Val Kilmer) pull off a daring heist, then set up another 'final score' (a staple of the genre) which will set them up for life. However, a low-life criminal they hire to help them with on one job is fired for his unpredictable behaivour, and escapes being shot by De Niro. This makes him a threat, and sets in motion a chain of events which leads to the police doggedly following the crew, waiting to see what they do.

It's actually a lot more complex than I can describe, and I don't really want to spoil it. The one thing I don't understand is why I hated this movie so much when I was young and stupid; the action scenes are incredible. When the aforementioned 'final score' goes bad, the police shoot out is the most realistic one I think I've seen – Mann (Michael Mann, the director) really knows what he's doing. I guess the reason must be because of all the dialogue and character scenes – as Kilmer and Pacino's relationships with their wives deteriorates, De Niro forms one for the first time, but has to deal with the fact that he's a crook and she doesn't know it yet – and there's a subplot with a young Natalie Portman that gets particularly harrowing as well.

It's hard to review Heat because I'm tired and late, and it's such a complex and long movie. I suppose all I can say is that if you like action movies, you'll like this – but it's not the same as something like Die Hard or Predator. And, if you like dramas, you should like this too – the action scenes are integral to the plot and aren't gratuitous in any way.

I guess the thing that I like best about it is that it proves that if you have a good director, a good script and two of the greatest actors of all time, the movie will be good. That says something about Steven Soderbergh, but I'm damned if I can think what it is. My advice to you is to go and watch Heat, and then be satisfied that the seventies wasn't the only decade which produced great police thrillers.


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