Saturday, 9 January 2010

Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.

No 38 - Heat
Director - Michael Mann

This film got a lot of press and a lot of attention because it finally joined two great actors together. Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. It is amazing to think that they had never acted together. Specially as they're both Italio-American actors from the same generation. Hell, they've even been in the same trilogy together.
And yet it wasn't until 1995 that the two of them got to share a scene together. What surprises me though is the sheer number of big(gish) names also appear in this film. People like a young Natalie Portman, the outstanding and unspeakably badass Danny Trejo (playing a character with the original name of Trejo), Hank Azaria in non-comedy form, John Voight in strange old hippy form and Val Kilmer.

This is great because whilst the film follows two fabulous actors it is filled with bit parts and supporting roles from equally talented actors. Natalie Portman gives the kind of edgy and real performance we know she was able to do even as a child, Danny Trejo is superb, his scenes (When he is occasionally put into the forefront) are incredibly poignant for someone who had such a crazy journey before becoming an actor, John Voight and Hank Azaria both have charm and acting chops needed to realistically convey their small roles.

The person to talk about though is Val Kilmer, I really like Val Kilmer, despite his indiscretions. I hoped that Gay Perry was the role to bring him back to the forefront, but I'm always happy to see him in a film. His role in here is brilliant, bringing pathos and a likable side into this arrogant and annoying gambling addict. The relationship between him and his wife is a wonderful little subplot to the movie's mains story....

The story itself is fairly simple. We have a bunch of criminals who are performing large scale heists. They are lead by DeNiro's character. We then have the FBI agents tracking them down, led by Pacino.
But, we want the story to be simple. This isn't a film filled with twists and turns... this is a simple structure on which to hang some truly excellent acting. This is a film where the joy comes from watching some fabulous performances. Whilst both are excellent actors, I have to say that it is DeNiro's performance which shines in Heat. Al Pacino seems to fluctuate between being very quiet and VERY LOUD. He has a manic disjointed delivery which I found off putting. It works when he wants to freak out criminals and get them to play along, because it is off putting. But for the rest of the film I find it a bit weird.
On the other hand, DeNiro is terrifying. His role as a leader of a criminal gang is perfect. The way that his calm and quiet composure masks an very present undercurrent of bristling violence. See how he reprimands Waingro for messing up the job. His calm composure cracking for a moment of terrifying physical force.
DeNiro is not a man I'd ever want to piss off, and he plays these violent horrible characters with such ease and such comfort. It is good to see DeNiro comfortable in a role rather than that weird awkward vibe he tends to give off when performing comedy.

However he also manages the nicer elements of Neil's character. The way he turns from angry tense suspicion to a really open and friendly charming flirt with Amy Brenneman's delightful Eady. The two of them share a really nice relationship, however as this blog's title shows Neil is not someone to settle down. So you know throughout that there is a strong chance she will get hurt.

It feels unfair to just dismiss Pacino, he is amazing, he just doesn't shine with the same elegance as DeNiro. However, for every scene where he is an annoying shouty copper there are some beautiful scenes with his family. Showing the stress and strain that such responsibility has on the people he loves. For a really powerful moment, possibly the most powerful moment in the whole film, look how he reacts when he finds his step daughter in grave peril (Spoiler clicky...). That moment of tender beauty as he cares for his stepdaughter and the panic and understanding that happens afterwards. It is beautifully understated, sensitive and moving. Considering that so much of Pacino's performance seems to be built on manic shouting, it is nice to see him being understated.

Pacino's other strongest scene is when he finally meets with DeNiro's character in a beautifully calm cafe conversation. The entire scene bristles with the undercurrent of danger and yet is so calm. Considering it is a scene which shows very little emotion and no movement at all, it crackles with energy and with chemistry. It is the pleasing resolution of 90 minutes of being teased. When they two great actors finally meet up it is a masterclass of the subtle and understated performance.

It is just a shame that the second time they meet up is for the all important 'grand finale'. Despite there being what feels like a grand finale about 80 minutes in to the film (with explosions and gun fire.... lots and lots of gunfire) the film ends with the typical duel and shootout which has to occur in these kind of chase films.
It is a shame because this film is all about The Chase. It is about how the chase affects the lives of those involved, how it becomes and obsession. It is about the thrill of the danger of the heat of pursuit.
To try and resolve something like that just seems a bit like a waste

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