Heat

Heat ★★★★★

So few crime dramas can do melodrama and get away with it. Michael Mann earns it in Heat because, frankly, his story is head and shoulders above almost everything in its genre. He goes epic in scale. He widens his view of the traditional crime movie so we can see the peripheral characters more clearly. Each subplot is perfectly arranged and immensely significant. They deepen the emotional experience, as well as the suspense, because there isn't a single character we don't care about/want to watch die slowly.

Folded into this web of people is the most bananas lineup of actors. Like do you remember when Bud Cort, Henry Rollins, and Danny Trejo did a movie together? It was Heat. It gets a lot of credit for pairing DeNiro and Pacino, and it should. Their first scene together is a high water mark in crime movies (and also movies). But surrounding them is a dynamite support team of people like William Fichtner, Natalie Portman, Ted Levine, Tom Sizemore, and the tragically unknown Kevin Gage, who plays Waingrow. His performance is excellent but it may be that his character was too dislikable for him to reach any status like his co-stars. By "dislikable" I mean scourge of the earth; the most extreme icon of wickedness that has ever been dumped onto the screen. He's so repugnant that he becomes the villain of the movie without being the antagonist. We're actually rooting for our antagonist. DeNiro and his crew are so professional, careful, and consciencous that you hope they get away with it. And they just might if this villain would quit popping up and wrecking everything. Michael Mann does well to highlight the distinction between career criminal and evil human being.

Always the master of accuracy and detail, Mann loads his movie with realism. If DeNiro's crew is going to put a body in the trunk, they don't just lay down a couple of trash bags. It's perfectly lined so no blood or hair follicles can be obtained. There's the custom explosive for the armored car. The construction job of tripping the bank alarms. The gunfight downtown is appropriately deafening. All the little details make the whole experience more palpable.

Then there is the visual pinache. It is boldly photographed, almost romantic. Mann's crime films are always seductive, but none are as balanced as Heat. Mann had been perfecting it well before he actually made it, and he has remade it since. There will always be grey suits, steel, cobalt hues, and envigorating music in his films, but this is the pinnacle of his style and storytelling.

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