“Heat” still has the juice 25 years later. The crime thriller starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino is the magnum opus of Michael Mann’s illustrious career; a deeply introspective take on the classic heist movie.
De Niro plays crime mastermind Neil McCauley, a man steeped in rigid principles and a knack for stress fractures in titanium. Pacino stars opposite as LAPD Lieutenant Hanna, a coked up detective who, like any great cop, will concisely forgo the his family for the protection of the law. The movie is built on Hanna and Neil’s bitter rivalry, two men who admire each other’s professionalism but, if the time comes, won’t hesitate to put each other down. This movie rocks so hard.
Michael Mann’s career is mountainous, in shape. The American director started out exceedingly well, releasing critical and audience hits like “Thief,” “Manhunter” and “Last of the Mohicans.” “Heat” released in 1995 and is the height of Mann’s career. Despite the incredible action set pieces and wide tableaus of 90’s Los Angeles, the true beauty of the film lies in its characters.
What separates “Heat” from other heist movies is the acknowledgment of the life and death stakes. In the infamous meeting between Hanna and Neil, both men reconcile with fatality. Each could be the other’s killer and by sipping coffee together they’re quite literally staring death in the face. And yet, a deep reverence is formed because both men are professionals. This type of philosophical sparring is Mann at his best, and the absence of it in Mann’s future films sees a director on a downward slope. I’m grateful “Heat” exists, but simultaneously resent it for peaking the greatest action director in film history.
The below picture features behind the scenes photos from the third act’s famous shootout. Unlike almost every other film shootout, Mann recorded and used the live machine gun sounds from the shootout. It lends itself to a visceral, hyperrealistic scene that still holds up 25 years later.