Ian Fastert’s review published on Letterboxd:
Heads, Hands, and Heat
From the very first seconds of Heat, I knew something was up. All the major characters are introduced with close-ups on two of their features; their faces, and their hands. I went into the film knowing it would be a crime drama with action and Al Pacino yelling about asses, so for the movie to start out so small and intimate was something that took me back. It instantly lets the audience know that this is where they will be getting their information from, where the real story is taking place. No matter how many monologues each character gets, no matter how much they talk about their past and the plans and the robberies, the action is taking place on their faces and in their hands. It starts with hands and faces, it ends with hands and faces, a story told entirely through bodies. The film takes place in LA, which can whisk you away and be beautiful and it can be grey and large and overwhelming, but none of that matters! It's a distraction, the world is a distraction, from the people within it. This is what drives Vincent's marriage apart, a dedication to this world that doesn't matter at the expense of the people he cares about inside it. Neil has a different problem, that the world has consumed him and he has nothing else he cares about, and as the movie goes on he begins to realize that he has nothing. He has no one, and he feels like no one can relate to him and he's all alone. Which is why the hand holding at the end feels so powerful; he's found one of his own, he understands the point of all of this, and he looks for the faces and hands to guide him.
Faces and hands.
I've seen people call this the manliest poem ever, and while I certainly agree the film is poetic, I would have to argue against it pushing masculinity forward. It's a movie about how masculinity tears people apart, how it distracts them from what really matters, and it does that by making the audience go through the same thing. The bank robbery scene, which feels awesome and epic in the moment, ends with a realization of the humanity being caught up and spit out in all this chaos. Every single cool thing, every single Pacino line read that makes me laugh or every Val Kilmer gun shot, it's all followed up by making you feel the emptiness inside these people; how no matter what they look like on the outside, they're all the same damn lonely person on the inside. I'm forever afraid of loneliness; I go to parties and group events and I try to be the person who livens things up, who gives everyone a moment to remember or a story to tell, but I never feel present. Whenever I'm out, I'm aware the whole time that the night will end and I'll go home and there will be no one, and I just hope I can fall asleep in time that I don't have to think about it that much. We all fuck up, and push people away, and every time we think we get really close to someone we find a way to blow it up in our faces. That's being young I guess, and Heat just transposes that youngness onto these immortal faces, these gods of acting, and makes us realize that you don't want to be young forever. You don't want to act like either of these people, especially when you're 50, and no matter how cool it looks on the surface you need to get your shit together. And that's hard. I certainly don't know how to do it, and I don't know who really does, but I think what Heat is all about is how we find that through each other. We are the ways of out each others bad places, we are the link to the present, and we just need to not get distracted and focus in enough on each other to let ourselves be taken to where we want to be. In Heat, our main characters never fully get there. They know they won't be able to, that they've been living this way for too long to get out, and that their lives are the distraction, the city, their jobs. This is a cautionary tale, a tale that asks you to focus on people, and body language, and the emotions that surround us, rather than the world.
Faces and hands.
Heads, hands, and heat.
The pressure to succeed in someway is all internal. None of these characters are being pushed by anyone to win, we don't see Vincent's chief of police yelling at him for not catching these guys, and we don't see Jon Voight yell at De Niro either. The only pressure is inside, and we are the same way. If you let that pressure eat you up, if you succumb to the heat, then you've lost everything else. It's a literal self-perpetuating cycle. It will ruin the things you care about, it will tear you apart, and even if you still can function you're just a shell of who you once were and could be. It doesn't matter who wins at the end of this, everyone loses, because they're all empty and sad, and nothing can fix that. For one moment though, they get to feel human connection again, for the first time in who knows how long, and they feel it. They feel again. Letting yourself feel is the most powerful skill you have, no matter how proficient you are at anything. You need to link to those around you, and you need to just feel.
All you need is a link.
Faces and hands.