Heat ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.


"Three hours was the wrong running time for this movie," began my negative "review" 18 years ago, just a few months after I launched my site. "It should have run either 90 minutes, or seven hours." That I somehow failed to appreciate the rampant awesomeness on display here boggles the mind; for all his idiocy, though, younger me did have a point, if not yet an available countermodel. Today, Heat looks like a hugely condensed season of first-rate television, with the sprawling narrative and multi-character arcs we now associate with that medium. (See also: Contagion.) Bump it up to 10 or 12 hours on HBO and the material that currently feels thin—Kilmer and Judd's rocky marriage, Portman's depression, Fichtner's desperate machinations, the whole Waingro-as-serial-killer thing (which goes nowhere at all; I guess it's just there to make us reallllly hate him)—would have a chance to breathe. As it stands, there's a disjunction here between Mann's expansive attention to detail and his mythmaking instincts. The mano-a-mano finale, in particular, is superbly movie-ish (as opposed to "cinematic," though it's that too), heightened in a way that sacrifices credibility for poetry; it's dazzling in a vacuum, but it also undermines the unemphatic realism Mann favors between setpieces. Still, none of this is even remotely fatal, as I apparently believed at the time. And maybe it's the subsequent two decades of lazy mugging retroactively influencing me, but I can't fathom why I was underwhelmed by De Niro back then; his Neil is the blatant apotheosis of Mann-hood, a preternaturally self-contained loner for whom even passion is a sort of job description. (I also recognized this time that Hanna's outbursts—"cause she's got a GREAT ASS"—are usually the character performing to intimidate, not just Pacino hamming it up for no reason.) File this one alongside Trust and High and Low in my ever-growing "was blind but now I see" folder. (Also wrote up one scene for a Scenic Routes column.)

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