Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Essentials- "Heat" (1995)

The Essentials-#17

Heat (1995)
Back in 1995, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro made history together. It was the first time both of these gods of acting actually breathed air next to each other. I know, I know. Many of you will say that both actors appeared in "The Godfather Part II" back in 1974. I know because that movie is very dear to my heart as well, and I have seen it many times. However, De Niro played young Vito Corleone (the part Marlon Brando played in 1972) in one storyline, while Al Pacino played Michael Corleone in a future storyline. The actors never once had a scene together, and to my knowledge, never really met up with each other while that movie was made.

The picture above refers to one of the best scenes in the entire movie. As Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) a highly talented detective of the Los Angeles Police Department sits down and has coffee with a notorious professional thief Neil McCauley. The scene is filled with juicy dialogue and really sets the stage. "Ever tried doing something else?" asks Hanna. McCauley scoffs at the question "Like barbecue's and Baseball games? I can't do anything else, I don't want to do anything else." And surprisingly, Hanna responds "I don't either." The climax of this legendary scene is punctuated with the reality the characters set up for themselves. They literally tell each other that one is going to kill the other if they should cross paths again. The shadow of death hangs on each of these men and they seem to except that for their greater goals.

We learn that Vincent Hanna is a honorable, decorated cop. This is all to the expense of his third wife Justine (Diane Venora) who is beginning to detach herself from Vincent. He is so committed to his job that nearly nothing else matters, but Justine does matter to him and he can't figure out how to show it. He doesn't even discuss work with her, not that he isn't open or invested, but he's afraid what he'll say may disturb her. 

McCauley story is equally engaging. McCauley has had a lengthy criminal career of taking down scores, he's never went after a score he's never pulled off. While he's very rich, he's never had anything close to romantic relationship. "Do not become attached to nothing in life that you can't walk away from in 30 seconds if you spot the heat around the corner" is McCauley's business philosophy, and he's been perfectly fine with it.

Then McCauley meets Eady, played by Amy Brenneman, and everything changes.

One of the best things about "Heat" is how it humanizes the characters we aren't supposed to root for. When McCauley spends an evening with Eady, we learn that McCauley had somewhat of a life before he resorted to a life of crime. Its mesmerizing to see this tough guy break his own philosophy. Another great example comes from Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer) who is McCauley's second-in-command and best friend. It's clear that Shiherlis loves his wife and son, but has terrible gambling problems, which makes his wife (the always-great Ashley Judd) cheat on him. But he does care about her and underneath it all she does too. Their last scene together maybe one of the most heart-wrenching scenes in a crime thriller ever. Kilmer really sells it too, and proves how much we miss Kilmer's efforts today.

The rest of the cast is beyond solid. Featuring actors like Tom Sizemore, Danny Trejo, Jon Voight, Natalie Portman, Wes Studi, Ted Levine, Myketi Williamson, Dennis Haysbert, William Fichtner, Hank Azaria and Tom Noonan. If some of those names don't ring a bell, Google them and I assure you that you'll recognize a handful of them. These are tremendous character actors and they each make their roles count. I have to say though, with all the talent shoehorned into this ensemble, the guy who really steals the show is Kevin Gage. Gage plays Waingro, a ruthless criminal who does one job with McCauley's crew at the beginning of the film...and he screws up, big time. This screw up is what puts Vincent Hanna on McCauley's scent. As McCauley goes to execute Waingro...he escapes his death, and afterward he is a unmerciful force for the duration of the film. He leaves scares on most of the characters with ease and does so with glee. Watch Kevin Gage in "Heat" and try to tell me that he isn't a perfect candidate for "The Joker" in an upcoming Batman film. He's that great.

In speaking of Batman, director Christopher Nolan actually cited "Heat" as a inspiration for "The Dark Knight." Once you see the kinetic bank heist scene in "Heat," you'll know exactly where that inspiration came from. It's a big, bold, chaotic scene but even during the shootout, it never loses its sense of realism. All the action scenes in this movie leave exciting footnotes, but they are handled with care and shot extremely well.

If you like your crime movies for the action or the drama, "Heat" supplies enough to make any fan satisfied. The final shootout and scene between Pacino and De Niro is incredibly emotional to the point that I tear up. The scene is complimented by Moby's awesome song, "God Moving over The Face of the Waters" and its bracing. Even though this may seem like another crime movie, these actors came together and made every minute of it matter. That to me, is what good moviemaking is all about. If you haven't had the pleasure of seeking out "Heat," you must do so immediately.

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