I've never really understood why Michael Mann's "Heat" is revered by so many as a great movie, oh it is by no means an average movie with its complex storyline, stylish action and a huge cast of stars but great it is not. I suppose my problem with "Heat" is that at its heart it is a cops n robbers movie, with a Lieutenant leading his men after a gang of robbers but because there is so much else going on, sub-plots which take on a life of their own it becomes overly complicated and whilst everything ties together it feels like it is trying to be more than it is. There is of course the big selling point, screen legends Pacino and De Niro appearing on screen together for the first time. Now I like both Pacino and De Niro but by 1995 they had both peaked years earlier and so the big moment where they share a scene is not all you would hope it to be.
Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro - Casino) is a master criminal, a ruthless robber who with his crew have made a fortune successfully robbing various places and vehicles. Neil's dedication to his life leads him to live by a 30 second rule which allows him not to be come attached to anything he can't walk away from in under 30 seconds. On their trail is Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino - Carlito's Way) a sharp cop whose dedication to catching bad guys comes with its own sacrifices, his unhappy wife and step-daughter. With Hanna closing in on McCauley and his gang they plan one final retirement job before calling it a day, but have they left it too late and can McCauley live by his rule having grown fond of the pretty Eady (Amy Brenneman)?
So "Heat" is at its heart a cops n robbers movie but one where even are robbers are quite likeable with the occasional exception. But it is no ordinary cops n robbers movie because whilst part of the movie is about the slick operation that McCauley runs the other part is about the characters. And yes that means that "Heat" is as much a character study as it is a cops n robbers movie which is why it becomes drawn out to almost 3 hours and over complicated.
Now the central focus of all this drama and character study are McCauley and Hanna as we see the lives they live, for McCauley it is one of loneliness and to some extent the same for Hannah as his marriage fails and his step-daughter is screwed up thanks to her real father. But we get more because we then have issues for McCauley's crew member Chris and his wife and this takes on a life of its own. It is the same with all the sub-plots from Waingro who breaks a rule during robbery to Donald Breedan who is on parole and in a shit job, for me they all get too much focus, too embellished and whilst all these subplots and embellishments are part of the bigger picture they draw the movie out, trying to make it an epic when it isn't.
On the subject of epic we have the action and by that I mean what must be one of the biggest shoot-outs in screen history as the city air is filled with the sound of machine gun fire in a running battle. In a movie which seems to try and be realistic the over the top action of this shoot out and subsequent action scenes spoils things. Don't get me wrong as the action is exciting and stylish throughout but it is too outrageous for the actual movie.
And then we come to the acting and ignoring Pacino and De Niro for a moment I will happily say that "Heat" as an impressive cast with all of them playing their parts well especially those who have a sub-plot all of their own to deal with. But let's be honest "Heat" is all about Pacino and De Niro on screen together for the first time although talk about disappointing when they do finally share a scene. The thing for me about this is that individually they play their characters well, neither give vintage performances, but they do it well but in the scene in the diner it is a real let down. I suppose there was too much hype about it, even the lead up to the scene in the movie is hyped up with dramatic movie but what goes on between them is dull.
What this all boils down to is that "Heat" is a good movie, a better than average cops n robbers with great performances through out and plenty of style. But not only is it a disappointment when it comes to Pacino and De Niro on screen together but because even the sub plots have a life of their own it becomes drawn out and over complicated when less would have been more.