J.D. Lafrance
Heat: Special Edition DVD Review

Heat: Special Edition

August 21, 2005

Director: Michael Mann,
Starring: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Amy Brenneman, Ashley Judd, Mykelti Williamson, Wes Studi, Ted Levine, Dennis Haysbert, William Fichtner, Natalie Portman, Tom Noonan, ,

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DVD Review

J.D. Lafrance

After the commercial and critical success of The Last of the Mohicans (1992), filmmaker Michael Mann made his most ambitious film up to that point in his career with Heat (1996). He cast legendary actors Robert De Niro and Al Pacino as the leads in what would be their first the on-screen appearance together in a movie (they were in The Godfather: Part II but never appeared in the same scene). Mann returned to a 1986 draft of a screenplay that originated before he made The Jericho Mile (1979). A few years ago, Warner Brothers released a bare bones DVD of Heat. To celebrate the 10th anniversary, Mann has revisited his movie and assembled an excellent collection of extras.

At the core of Heat is the relationship between career criminal Neil McCauley (De Niro) and dedicated cop, Vincent Hanna (Pacino). Mann takes the career criminal from Thief (1981) and the intensely dedicated cop from Manhunter (1986) and places them in the same film together with the sprawling metropolis that is Los Angeles as its backdrop. It is a deadly cat and mouse game realized on an epic level. Imagine Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing (1956) but on the scale of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

The opening of Heat introduces the two main protagonists without any dialogue. Mann relies entirely on their actions to illustrate defining characteristics. From the beginning, he shows a sharp contrast between McCauley and Hanna’s professional and personal lives. McCauley is all business. His life is devoted to preparing for his next score. Hanna is married—albeit in a relationship rife with problems but with some semblance of a personal life.

McCauley is the quiet individual who lets his actions speak for him. Mann defines McCauley’s character visually. This is achieved not only in the exciting armored truck heist sequence—the essence of ruthless efficiency—but, more significantly, when he returns to his home. Like most Mann protagonists he lives in a Spartan, empty residence. The establishing shot utilizes a blue filter that saturates the frame, with the ocean infinitely stretching out in the background. This is reminiscent of the scene in Manhunter where Graham and Molly make love in their bedroom. McCauley is a man dominated by his profession—it defines who he is as a person.

Hanna’s life is rife with domestic disharmony. When he comes home Justine informs him that she had dinner ready for them four hours ago. She tells him, “Every time I try to maintain a consistent mood between us you withdraw.” He replies, “I got three dead bodies on a sidewalk off Venice Boulevard.” Hanna tries to articulate something resembling an apology but he is unable. This is not good enough for her and she leaves the room leaving him alone and frustrated. The final shot is of him sitting alone watching TV.

The film’s centerpiece is undeniably the classic meeting between Pacino and De Niro. Ironically, Mann cuts the scene so that each man is shown in over-the-shoulder shots. We do not actually see them face-to-face at any time during this scene. This is the moment when both men size each other up and reveal their personal philosophies. The dialogue between them says a lot about who they are. It makes sense, then, that they understand each other better than their wives or girlfriends. McCauley and Hanna are more open with each other than with their loved ones because there is a mutual respect and bond between them that others would not understand.

Heat’s most exciting action sequence is the now famous bank heist scene. Right from the beginning, Mann establishes a quick pace as McCauley enters the bank accompanied by pulsating electronic music that anticipates what is going to happen. The music is underplayed but still effective in creating tension during this sequence. Once McCauley and his crew emerge from the bank and Chris fires the first shot, the music stops and the rest of this exciting sequence plays out with no music—only the deafening roar of the guns firing as McCauley and his men try to escape and turn the streets of Los Angeles into a war zone. Mann alternates between shaky, hand-held cameras and fluid tracking shots with kinetic editing that brilliantly conveys the exciting action that is taking place.

The scale and star power of Heat was unlike anything Mann had ever tried before and firmly announced him as force to be reckoned within Hollywood. This two-DVD set is a fitting tribute for this important film. The transfer and sound are very well done with extras that are substantial and plentiful, providing a really good look at how this epic movie was put together.

Special Features:

Mann contributes a characteristically solid audio commentary. He provides a lot of details into the backgrounds and motivations of the film’s characters. Surprisingly, there is very little overlap from the featurettes as Mann’s comments start off strong but become more infrequent after the 90 minute mark.

The strongest extra is “The Making of Heat,” an excellent 54-minute retrospective documentary that can be viewed in three separate featurettes or altogether. Many of the major and minor cast members are back for brand new interviews and offer insightful comments, including Al Pacino, Jon Voight, Ashley Judd, Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore amongst others. Interestingly, Pacino explains that his character’s sudden, outrageous outbursts come from Hanna’s back-story: he did cocaine and was always a little high. Mann and his cast did extensive research, including the actors who played criminals meeting real ones in prison. One quickly gets the impression that Mann is incredibly well-prepared and knows exactly what he is doing and his confidence inspires the cast and crew. This is in-depth look at how Heat was put together and provides the whole story for casual fans and fascinating insight for devotees.

“Pacino and De Niro: The Conversation” explores the famous on-screen meeting between these two actors. Mann subverts our expectations by delaying their eventual meeting and then, when it does happen, it is at a diner over coffee and not what one expects with this kind of a movie.

“Return to the Scene of the Crime” features location manager Janice Polley revisiting many of the locations used in the movie. Mann wanted to find locations in Los Angeles that had never been put on film before in order to create a distinctive look. Not an easy task for one of the most photographed cities in the United States (second only to New York City).

Finally, there are 11 deleted scenes that include the most revealing excised bit of footage in a scene where McCauley and his crew get ready just before they enter the bank while one of his gang (Trejo) is interrogated by rogue psycho, Waingro (Gage) that should have been kept in. There is nothing terribly earth-shattering about this excised footage but there are a couple of good moments.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance


Rating: 98%



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