Friday, August 17, 2018

'Heat' of the Moment

Heat
Director: Michael Mann
Cast: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Ashley Judd, Time Sizemore, Jon Voight, Natalie Portman
Released: December 15, 1995


Anytime anyone does a Robert De Niro or Al Pacino impression, I am always amused. And the better the impression, the more amused I am. I found the funniest thing when I was doing research for this movie. (Well, actually I was doing research for De Niro and Pacino impressions...) I discovered a little podcast called "The Al Pacino and Robert De Niro Show" where they interview some up and coming actor or comedian. There's about four or five episodes and they're all only ten minutes long. "Al" will always shout "OH, BOY!" or call something "TREMENDOUS!" ("That was a TREMENDOUS show!") Of course, you'll have the occasional "HOO-WAH!" thrown in there as well. And then you have "Bobby" who will interrupt "Al" while he's interviewing the guest with some stupid question that has nothing to do with whatever they're talking about (like what's your  favorite cereal?) and "Al" will always respond with, "That's a good question, Bobby!" And sometimes "Al" will ask "Bobby" a question and he replies with, "Who, me?" There was one particularly funny podcast where De Niro blurts out of nowhere, "I won an Oscar for Raging Bull!" and Pacino responds, "That's right, Bobby! And I won an Oscar for Scent of a Woman!" (I'm surprised  De Niro didn't one-up him and say he has two Oscars...he must have "forgotten".) "Bobby" asks the guest if he's ever won an Oscar and he goes, "No, I've never been to the Oscars." And five minutes later "Al" will mention his Oscar again, haha! And, I swear, in every podcast "Bobby" brings up Rocky and Bullwinkle...I'm pretty sure the real De Niro wants to forget about that movie! They were talking about comedies the two actors have been in and he brought up that one. "Al" says he can't remember if that was him in Meet the Fockers ("Was that me in Meet the Fockers?") and "Bobby" tells him that he "thinks that was Dustin Hoffman." I love that neither of them can remember who was in that movie. Funny stuff. Do yourself a favor and go to Youtube and type "De Niro and Pacino go for ice cream". It's a MadTV skit where it takes them two hours to decide on what kind of ice cream they want at Baskin Robbins.

I came across this movie when I was doing research for The Godfather movies because while both Pacino and De Niro were in the second movie, they never share a scene together (if they did, there would be some weird time traveling stuff going on!) Nearly twenty years after that movie, Heat was going to be the first time they would share the screen together. In fact, the trailers were all about this being the first time they would finally be acting together. Now, if I were some moviegoer back in 1995 excited to see these two legendary actors in the same movie, sharing scenes together, I would be a bit miffed because (spoiler alert!) they're only in two scenes together! And in one of them there's barely any dialogue between them. And this is a three hour movie! They probably literally only share fifteen minutes of screen time together (if that!) However, I think it works and the motto "less is more" is true here.

SPOILERS WILL BE RAMPANT! 

Pacino plays Detective Vincent Hanna who is trying to capture De Niro's criminal Neil McCauley who is planning a bank heist with his crew. Pacino does a lot of screaming in this movie...he is a lot more unhinged than the calm, cool, and collected De Niro. "GIVE ME ALL YOU GOT! GIVE ME ALL YOU GOT!" "DON'T WASTE MY MOTHERF'ING TIME." And lots, lots more. Even though he doesn't yell it, my favorite line is when he's interrogating Hank Azaria's character about Ashley Judd's character and when Azaria says, "Who?", Pacino goes, "Who? Who? What are you, a f**king owl?" And speaking of animals, I also laughed when he's talking to Tone Loc's character and says, "You get killed walkin' your doggie!"

There are so many people in this movie; many of them you are probably familiar with. I only listed the actors who are more well-known/have the most screen time above. There are a ton of character actors. Let me tell you how many other people are in this...some of them weren't even listed in the beginning credits:
-Amy Brenneman, best known for shows like Judging Amy, Private Practice, and  NYPD Blue is in this.
-Hank Azaria, from The Simpsons and a million other things, is in this.
-Dennis Haysbert aka President Palmer from 24 is in this.
-Speaking of 24, Xander Berkeley, is also in this for one scene.
-Jeremy Piven has one scene in this movie.
-William Fichtner, also in a million things, but maybe you might remember him from The Dark Knight, which I will bring up later in this review, is in this. He's a total, "Hey, it's that guy!" character actor that you always recognize but you may not know his name.
-Danny Trejo, who has done so many things, but I know him best from Breaking Bad, is in this.
-Tone Loc, '90s rapper and the bad guy from Blank Check (heh!), is in this.
-Ted Levine, the guy who played Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, is in this.
-Mykelti Williamson, who played Bubba in Forrest Gump, is in this.
-Tom Noonan, who they made a big deal about in Last Action Hero, is in this, but honestly, I'm not that familiar with him. I didn't know any of his movies except for LAH.
And there's a million other people, but I wasn't familiar with them. I'm sure you know at least six people from the above list!

This is a long movie. It's three hours long. Oh, did I already mention that? Usually I space out these really long movies and watch them over a course of a couple days. I watched Heat on a day I didn't feel good so I was more than happy to sit on my couch in the dark for three hours watching it. There's so much going on and a lot of information to retain, that I did have to re-watch a couple scenes to write this. It's a really good movie. Beautifully shot...you really get the essence of Los Angeles, where it takes place. Every scene in this movie was filmed in an actual L.A. location, no studios are ever used and it definitely helps the film feel much more authentic. However, I almost think this movie would have benefited to be a ten-part series on Netflix or Hulu. Unfortunately, those didn't exist twenty years ago and if you were to make it as a series today, you wouldn't get the same cast and Pacino and De Niro would be too old for their roles, so you wouldn't get that awesome diner scene between the two of them. Even though this movie is three hours long, I still feel like so much is missing. For instance, Natalie Portman (a 12 or 13 year old Natalie Portman!) plays Pacino's stepdaughter. Her mom is his third wife. Portman's character's name is Lauren, and honestly, I had to look that up because I would have never remembered that as she is probably in the entire movie for less than five minutes. When we first meet her, she's being a bratty kid, whining about how she can't find her barrettes and she needs to be ready for when her dad picks her up. He never does and we learn that it's not uncommon for him to do that. We next see her sitting at a bus stop and I just assumed she was waiting there for her dad to pick her up, but then Vincent sees her and picks her up. (Really, what are the odds he would come across the same bus stop his stepdaughter is at in L.A.?) He asks her what she's doing and she replies she wanted to be alone. I thought for sure when we first met her she was going to be kidnapped by De Niro, or worse, murdered by one of the really bad guys from his crew. However, her final act towards the end of the movie comes out of nowhere and I wasn't expecting that at all. Vincent, who's been having problems with his wife, Justine, is staying at a hotel and when he goes back there one night, he notices the floor is all wet right outside the bathroom and when he goes in he sees Lauren unconscious in the bathtub with the water all red after she has cut herself. WTF? Where the f**k did this come from? I know she wasn't happy that her dad kept making excuses not to see her, but this seemed to come out of nowhere! Maybe she was also unhappy that her mom and stepdad were fighting? We never see her in any of those scenes, but that doesn't mean she doesn't know about it. Still....I feel like if this had been a ten-part miniseries we could get some more insight of this young girl being suicidal, because, to me, it totally comes out of nowhere. She is rushed to the hospital where she is helped and will survive her ordeal. Honestly, you could have just taken out Natalie Portman and you wouldn't even miss anything. Fun fact: this was her second movie, but that's not too surprising as she is really young in this!

Another scene where this movie would benefit from being a miniseries is when Neil meets Amy Brenneman's character, Eady, for the first time. The following happens, all within, like five minutes: first we see Neil in a bookstore, where Eady works. We see her walk past him while he's looking at a book and this is probably something you wouldn't even notice if you were watching it for the first time. The next scene he's sitting in a crowded diner with just an empty seat between him and Eady. Seriously, again, what are the odds of that? Was this diner connected to that bookstore or something, cuz then at least that would make a little more sense that they would both be there. Even if that were true, it is amazing that they are both sitting near each other because this is the biggest diner/restaurant I have ever seen in my life! Even bigger than the Cheesecake Factory, haha. After he asks her to pass the creamer, she asks him what he's reading (a book about metals) and what he does. He gets annoyed and asks her why she's so interested in what he reads or what he does. She apologizes for bothering him and tells him she works at the bookstore and has seen him from time to time. He feels bad for being rude (probably only because she's young and pretty and he likes her Southern accent!) and moves to the empty seat and tells her he's a salesman and asks questions about her. You know this movie came out before Project Runway because when Eady tells him she went to Parsons for graphic design, he asks her where that is. Please. Everyone knows where Parsons is because of that show! Tim Gunn put Parsons on the map. They end up at her place and I'm thinking, Um, is this a good idea to take some guy home with you that you just met? He could be a criminal (which he is!) Well, as long as she doesn't sleep with him...which she does! She obviously has a thing for older men because we know she's been "watching" him at the bookstore and he is easily twenty years older than her. She's lucky she didn't take home the really bad guy in Neil's crew because things wouldn't end so well for her! But he isn't even attractive. Maybe that whole scene was more than five minutes, but it seems very rushed and makes Eady look very naive, which I guess she is supposed to be, as we will see more prominently later in the film.

Neil's crew consists of Chris (Val Kilmer), Michael (Tom Sizemore),  and Trejo (Danny Trejo...yes, he plays a character that has his same surname...I wonder if that was the character's first or last name?) They have hired a guy named Waingro (who is the aforementioned really bad guy) to help them steal over a million dollars in bearer bonds. (Isn't that what Jared Leto and company were trying to get in Panic Room?) Their plan is to ambush an armored truck and have someone get the bonds while a couple others keep a lookout for the police and another one keep a gun on the guards who were in the truck so they don't try anything. Unfortunately they give that job to Waingro, the worst person to give that job to as he ends up killing one of them for no reason. One of the other guards reaches for his gun and this prompts Neil (or maybe it was Michael...it's hard to tell when they're all wearing masks...the only reason I knew it was Waingro who killed the first guard was because he has long hair) to kill him. They also kill the third guard to make sure there are no witnesses. This really pisses off Neil (who calls Waingro a "dumb motherf'er" twice...this is why he and Vincent should be BFFs...they love calling people that!) because their crime went from bad to REALLY F**KED! Later they're at a diner (a slightly smaller one, but still quite crowded) and he bashes Waingro's head into a table. There's some nice continuity where we will see a nasty scar where he hit his head throughout the rest of the movie. When they walk outside, Michael and Chris keep a lookout in the parking lot while Trejo opens the car trunk where we see a body bag ready to be used. Neil is about to shoot him after punching him in the gut, but Michael tells him to wait because he sees a police car. While Neil is watching the car, Waingro gets away. Why Neil or any of the other guys don't physically keep him in their control, don't ask me. But I guess the plot of the movie calls for his escape. Waingro will go on to commit a series of murders, killing young prostitutes by bashing their heads in. At one of the crime scenes Vincent arrives at, we see a bunch of people behind the yellow tape, and there are at least two small children...seriously, who are these parents who think it is appropriate to let children view a crime scene? Vincent is pulled away while he's on a date with his wife and this starts the downfall of their marriage...he is so busy with his work and always having to run away when he is needed. She has an affair with Xander Berkeley's character.

The LAPD reach the crime of the scene to scope things and very quickly Vincent realizes these are smart criminals because they were in a good spot with lots of escape routes and they knew to get away within three minutes, the time it would take for the police to reach them. Vincent gets some intel from an informant played by Tone Loc and they run Michael's name through the system and find all his felonies. They put him under constant surveillance.

Meanwhile, in a scene where there's a lot of math, Neil's boss/mentor (I don't know what you would call him!), Nate (Jon Voight) tells Neil that the bonds came from a money laundering man named  Roger Van Zant (William Fichtner) who "runs investment portfolios for offshore drug money." If Neil sells Van Zant his stolen bearer bonds, he'll make the money back, plus another 40% on top with the insurance. I don't know, I'm not good with math! This will also give Neil more money, so he agrees. Van Zant is a real piece of work. He's exactly the kind of shady client Saul Goodman would have (everything I learned about money laundering, I learned from Saul Goodman, true story!) He sends one of his men to ambush Neil when they're at the meeting place to make the exchange (big mistake!), but Neil is warned by Chris, who was keeping an eye on things, and makes it out without a scratch and still has the bonds. The two men Van Zant sent, however, end up dead. Despite all this, Neil is quite furious at just what went down (well, you can't blame the guy...he did just escape an assassination attempt!) and let's just say Van Zant better watch his back! Not only did Van Zant try to kill him, the package of money was just blank scraps of paper. Total scumbag, this Roger Van Zant.

By survieling Michael, Vincent and the rest of the LAPD learn about the other members of the crew and find out their next score is to break into a precious metals depository. (Aha! That's why Neil was reading a book about metals!) The police set up a stake out, ready to strike when they have their thieves. One of the officers accidentally hits his gun against the van and Neil, who is keeping watch outside near the van, hears it. Not wanting to take any chances, he tells Chris to stop drilling, despite Chris almost having it. They leave with nothing and Vincent tells the others to just let them go because they don't have anything to charge them with except breaking and entering which will only give them about six months of jail time before they're out. Vincent doesn't think it's even worth it. How much do you want to bet he chewed that guy's head off for screwing up their plan when they got back?


Neil and his crew turn the tables on Vincent and the LAPD and scope them out. I laughed when Vincent figures this out and starts posing for the camera and yelling, "Yeah!" Nate gives Neil the info on Vincent, saying that Vincent thinks he's pretty smart and almost has an admiration for him. However, he's on his tail and Nate advises Neil, who is planning on robbing 12.2 million dollars from a bank with his crew, to pass because he has too much heat from the LAPD, especially Hanna, on him.  Neil refuses to pass on the job which he already has all the schematics for, plus the plan has already been set up by Tom Noonan's character: the night before the big heist, they plan to trick the alarm system computer so it turns the video recorder off twenty minutes before they walk inside.

Right smack dab in the middle of the film is the scene everyone's been waiting for with bated breath; a scene everyone has been waiting to see for the last twenty years: the scene between Pacino and De Niro. Hanna goes to great lengths to find McCauley: he's in one of a handful of helicopters, all looking for his car. When they find him driving on the freeway, a car is waiting for Vince so he can catch up to Neil and when he does, he invites him for coffee. Can you imagine being an extra in this scene? You know they all tell people, "I was in a scene with Al Pacino and Robert De Niro and that's how I got my SAG card." (Okay, I don't know how SAG memberships work, but I feel like even if you act in a scene for a half second, then you're a member of SAG). That's what I would say if I were an extra in that scene! Now I probably would have been 13 when this movie was filmed, so I probably wouldn't care if I had been an extra in this scene because while I had certainly heard of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro at the time as they were big names, I probably wouldn't know that it was such a big deal they were in a scene together. I realize now, that as they're getting older (Pacino is 78 and today is De Niro's 75th birthday), that I've always taken them for granted. I don't want to sound morbid or anything, but you know all the news shows have their Pacino and De Niro (and all the other big names from their generation) video footage of all their big movies and accolades ready to roll in case, God forbid, anything should happen to one of them. But hopefully they still have a few good years left because I will feel horrible if something does happen to one of them right after I publish them, like I cursed them or something! I don't want to take the, ahem, heat for that. (That pun was very intentional!)


Anyway, let's get off this depressing subject and return to the scene they're in together. Even though they're both on the opposite sides of the law, there's a mutual respect and admiration between the two and in another life, they could quite possible be really good friends. There's a very interesting point in the conversation which will come up later in the movie and I'll get to that later. Both of them realize the other is not going to back down: McCauley is going to continue his life of robberies and Hanna is going to continue to chase the bad guys like McCauley that are out there. Hanna even tells him, "If it's between you and some poor bastard whose wife you're gonna turn into a widow, brother, you are going down." Likewise, Neil tells him that "There's a flip side to that coin" and that he "won't hesitate" if he has to be the one to kill Vincent. He also adds, "Maybe we'll never see each other again." Ha! Yeah, right. You know these two are going to cross paths again.

McCauley recruits Dennis Hayberth's character, Donald to be their getaway driver the day of the bank heist. He sees him working behind a grill at a diner and recognizes him from his prison days. He does this after their original getaway driver, Trejo, calls him and tells him he has too many cops on his tail and he has to back out of the bank heist. The heist and the shootout that follows is probably the most memorable part of the movie (beside the Pacino/De Niro scene, obviously). Apparently, Christopher Nolan used it to inspire the opening bank heist scene in The Dark Knight, and yeah, I can see it. Neil, Chris, and Michael just walk into this huge bank in downtown L.A. and they all stand in separate places. While Neil and Chris are putting ski masks on, Chris distracts everyone by hitting a guard and soon all three of them have complete control of the bank, handcuffing guards and pointing their guns at people, telling them to stay down and to not move. Neil tells them they don't want to hurt anybody, they are just there for the bank's money, not the patrons' money which is insured by the federal government. While what happens at the bank is scary with three masked men with guns taking duffel bags of money, what happens next in the busy streets is much scarier. At least they didn't use their guns at the bank. (Well, not to SHOOT anyone...they did use their guns a couple of times to hit guards with them).

It becomes a bit difficult for the LAPD to follow McCauley and his crew as they have gotten rid of all the surveillance. But as the heist is going down, they get a tip from Van Zant's bodyguard, of all people, and are able to catch up to the thieves as they are leaving the bank. Hanna instructs his crew to wait until they are all in their car and to "take clean shots." Um, is it really a good idea to start shooting bank robbers in the middle of downtown L.A. where there are people EVERYWHERE? However, they are not the first ones to start shooting; it's Chris who takes the first shot at the police and they return fire with him and the others. This is said to be the most intense shootout in any movie and they aren't lying! What makes it really scary if just how realistic it is. This scene is insane...they are just shooting everywhere and at everyone. Both sides end with casualties...one of the detectives played by Ted Levine is killed by Chris and Donald and Michael are both killed. I'm not sure how many civilians were killed, but there was no way none were unscathed by all those flying bullets! They even continue the shooting in a parking lot of a grocery store. Michael is killed after he takes a random child hostage (she got separated from her mother through all the confusion) and Vincent takes a shot at him, luckily not hitting the little girl! Neil and Chris get away when they steal a station wagon from the grocery store parking lot. Chris got shot in the neck and he is taken to a doctor played by Jeremy Piven. Neil tells Chris they need to get out of the country because they're all over the news. He believes it was Trejo who betrayed them to the cops because he wasn't there. When he goes to Trejo's house to confront him, he finds Trejo's wife dead and Trejo near death, but just barely hanging on. When he asks him why he did it, Trejo tells him that it was Waingro working with Van Zant and he had to tell them or he would kill his wife (which they did anyway, apparently!)

In one of her earlier film roles, Ashley Judd plays Charlene, the wife of Chris. They have a young son and she has no problem with her husband's criminal activity as long as it brings the big bucks. She's having an affair with Hank Azaria's character and the cops use him to bring her in for a sting operation. They tell her if they don't cooperate with them, then she will be going to jail and her son will grow up in foster homes. Her job is to lure her husband home. When they think they have Chris approaching in a car, they tell her to go outside and see if it's him. Look, I understand why an officer didn't accompany her because they didn't want to scare him off, but nobody was keeping an eye on her at all? From the balcony, she gives  Chris a subtle hand signal and he knows what this means and gets back in his car and drives away. She tells the detective played by Mykelti Williamson that it wasn't him. Smartly, he radios another officer to stop the car and check it out just to be on the safe side. Chris has a fake ID, thanks to Nate, and has also cut his hair. They know what Chris looks like, and they should know that it's possible he would have a fake ID ready to go when he escapes, but they let him go! They let him go because they believe it's an entirely different man! WTF? Do they not realize it's still him, just with short hair? That seemed a bit...implausible. Charlene is lucky the cops were so dumb or her ass (and according to Vincent, "She's got a GREAT ass!") would have wound up in jail. While Chris is able to get away, you know he will never be able to return to his wife or son again as you know the LAPD are watching to see if he does just that.

Neil has plans to escape with Eady to New Zealand (which she seems all ready to do...seems a bit impulsive to move across the world with someone you just met!) When she sees the shootout on the news, she realizes that Neil did this, understanding why he wants to go to the other side of the world. When he comes to get her, she runs away from him and he follows her up a hill and I thought for sure he was going to kill her, but he doesn't. Neil may be a criminal, but he's not a cold-blooded killer. He only murders people who really deserve it. He even gives her the choice of staying or leaving and she chooses to stay. Again, she seems a bit naive.

There are two things Neil really wants: he wants to live his life with someone he's found who he really cares about and he wants to get revenge on the two people who f**ked him over: Van Zant and Waingro. He will not be able to have both. With Nate's help, he is able to find the former and kill him. Also with Nate's help, he has an escape plan waiting for him and he is almost home free. On his way with Eady to the plane, Nate calls him with the whereabouts of Waingro. Neil decides it's not even worth it since he's almost out of the country, but at the last minute he decides to make a pit stop at the hotel Waingro is staying at, telling Eady, "There's time." In a weird way you're kind of rooting for this criminal to make his getaway so when he decides to do this, you're screaming at your TV to leave well enough alone and just forget about Waingro and make his damn escape already! He does kill Waingro (and let's face it, the world is a better place without him in it), but also causes quite the commotion because he set the fire alarm off to distract everyone and now all the police cars and firetrucks are in the area. Poor Eady is waiting in the car, wondering what the hell is going on. Vincent knows that Neil is at the hotel and as Neil is walking back to his car, he sees his cop buddy approach him. Now, if you remember, I mentioned that there's an interesting part in the conversation that comes up between Hanna and McCauley that will become relevant late on: Neil tells Vincent that he was once given the advice, "Don't let yourself get attached to anything [or anyone!] you are not willing to walk out on in thirty seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner." This is what exactly happens to the usually solidarity Neil who has found someone he loves and has gotten quite attached to Eady and now he has to leave her behind as he runs away from Vincent, who pursues him. Eady gets out of the car and is just looking at him in disbelief. Even though I thought she was totally naive throughout the movie, I did feel bad for her.

In the end, they're both playing a game of cat and mouse in the airfield, both with guns at the ready. It goes on for awhile, but when Neil tries to make his move, Vincent sees his shadow and quickly reacts, shooting him in the chest, not quite killing Neil, but wounding him profusely that he probably has only a few minutes to live. He is nice enough to hold Neil's hand while he dies. You can tell he didn't want this, but as he mentioned before, if it had to be between Neil and himself, Neil would be going down.

Despite my slight criticism of there being too many characters and subplots for even a three hour movie to follow, it does the best it can with it and I highly recommend it if you've never seen it. Don't let the three hour length intimidate you! This is filmmaking at its finest. If you put two good actors together with a great director and super talented character actors, you really can't go wrong. 

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