That’s right, Doug assigned me yet another boy movie; Michael Mann’s 1995 cops and robbers epic Heat. Frankly, “boy movie” doesn’t even aptly cover this testosterone driven three-hour ode to L.A. – not to mention the mugging by Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. Doug, perhaps divining that Heat would not be an entirely enjoyable three-hour adventure for me without some patented Doug commentary, joined me for the viewing. I therefore learned a number of interesting tidbits. First, I learned that Doug apparently memorized and could perform the one-man off-off-Broadway rendition of Heat (coming soon!). Second, I learned that the Michael Mann movie I really should be watching is The Keep. (How do you say no to an alien hunting Nazis? To quote another great movie, “Nazis. I hate those guys.” Check out the awesomeness!) Last, I learned that Doug saw the Martin Scorsese ode to gratuitous assault on a telephone, more mugging by DeNiro, and gambling that is Casino and Heat on the same weekend back in 1995. Doug claims that after seeing Heat , he thought he ought to call up Scorsese and tell him it was time to pass the mantle on to the young Mr. Mann. And there is the rub; the mantle of what??? There’s only one possible answer; the mantle of gratuitous, testosterone fueled crime dramas.
But there’s a difference to Mr. Mann’s Heat from any Scorsese – or the more recent comparison that I kept drawing to Ben Affleck’s The Town – because while the plot points may be similar, and hell, some of the actors are the same, Mann makes epics. It doesn’t matter if it’s a movie about whistleblowers or gangster; it’s about the big picture. Scorsese prefers a sort of compulsive attention to detail while Mann’s movies are glossy and staged, like the Better Homes & Gardens for bank robbers. Not to suggest Scorsese’s movies aren’t glitzy, but you get the sense throughout Heat, that Mr. Mann staged several scenes just so he could get that panoramic shot of the nighttime Los Angeles skyline over the actor’s shoulders. The city is another – more likeable – character in the movie.
And speaking of likeability, it seems to be a feature of Michael Mann’s films that his characters are about as likeable as a dead fish found on the front porch on a fine morning. That is to say, not a one of them is pleasant or honorable. Generally, I’m not going to really enjoy a movie if I like not a single character in it, but action flicks can get away with it sometimes and Heat falls into this category. DeNiro plays Neil McCauley a thief with all the charisma of, let’s say, a buttermilk biscuit. The film takes its name from a line oft-repeated by McCauley, “don’t have anything in your life that you wouldn’t be willing to walk away from in 30 seconds if you feel the heat around the corner.” It’s a difficult motto to live by and McCauley falls down on the job, showing some uncharacteristic loyalty to his crew when things go wrong. As Doug announced as the movie concluded, “that’s the discipline, you can’t lose the discipline!” Pacino is the workaholic Lieutenant Vincent Hanna. He plays the character with a sort of fervor that makes the character seem pretty much maniacal, but for no good reason. But that’s where Mr. Mann so often falls down – the inter-personal relationships and, if he were going to try to make this a two and half hour epic instead of three, it’s the personal relationships between Hanna and his family that could go, that and any scenes with Amy Brenneman. I don’t know her and I don’t want to get mean so I’ll just say, editing her scenes down might have helped.
All in all, Heat is a pretty enjoyable cops and robbers drama, but as I pointed out to Doug, Ben Affleck pulled off the thief falling in love better in The Town and, generally, I’d rather see Jeremy Renner chew scenery than Val Kilmer with a terrible ’90s pony tail. Maybe it’s like Doug has said about another story, it’s always better when you first discover these stories or flicks for yourself so it’s probably not surprising that I’d rather watch Affleck’s version, even if it is pretty transparently inspired by Heat. That being said, you can’t beat DeNiro’s pulled frown in a gangster role and the obvious winking at the audience when Pacino’s Hanna and DeNiro’s McCauley sit down for coffee to express their mutual respect. I can understand why Doug might have been pumping his fists in the air when this celebration of testosterone ended and certainly hearing Doug recite the lines right before Pacino delivered them did make the movie even better. Now, if only Affleck could have gotten DeNiro in The Town too, what a picture that would have been!