Released in 1995, Michael Mann’s Heat has spent the past 22 years embedding itself into pop culture consciousness. It’s hard to think of a crime movie (or even a crime video game) made in the past two decades that doesn’t owe it some kind of debt. This is Mann at his biggest and glossiest, his coolest and his grimmest, his most realistic and his most fantastical. It’s the three-hour action epic of our dreams.
With the new “Director’s Definitive Edition” Blu-ray on sale this week, Jacob Hall and Jack Giroux sat down to talk about Heat, what makes a Michael Mann movie, and yes, that rightfully famous shootout.
Jacob: Okay, so I want to get things rolling by talking about the first time you saw this movie. I was a little too young to catch it in theaters, so I first saw it on DVD in the mid-2000s. Even by then, it was clear how many other movies were borrowing from it and stealing from it. More than any other Michael Mann movie, it’s left a huge fingerprint on popular movies. Did you see it before its larger impact was felt?
Jack: I saw it for the first time around the same time you did, so it was already considered a modern classic. I do remember at the time I first watched it, maybe only seven or eight years after its release, that the title already carried a lot of weight. I remember just looking at the DVD cover, seeing the title and the names above it, and knowing I had to watch it immediately. Even the cover art just promised a major event.
Jacob: It makes me wonder how many younger people will watch it today and not realize how many cliches it created and how many foundations it established. I mean, how many people who saw The Dark Knight realize Christopher Nolan’s debt to Michael Mann? How many video gamers realize that the bank heist scene is directly responsible for so many shooters? It’s a testament to the film’s power that it’s still so good even though everyone has tried to wring it dry. That’s Casablanca-level resilience.
Jacob: Before we start narrowing in on the details, I want to talk about what defines Michael Mann as a filmmaker. Whenever you watch his movies, you’re clearly watching a Michael Mann movie. What stands out to you, especially after revisiting Heat?
Jack: What’s not being said. I don’t think Michael Mann has characters say something he can’t visualize for the audience. There’s no wasted words. His protagonists are typically very succinct, in their choices and action. I think Michael Mann also has tremendous empathy for his characters, in Heat and his other crime films, partially because he’s a great observer of behavior. He never tells us how to feel about Neil McCauley or most of his characters. He presents what they do and how they do it. He’s always showing, not telling.
Jacob: For sure. And while many people focus on the realism in his movies (and rightfully so, because the attention to detail can be extraordinary), I think it’s what’s unreal that really defines him. There’s a sense of melodrama to his work that I find hypnotic. Even as his characters act like real-world professionals, they speak like they’re in a novel or play. There’s a heightened style to their dialogue and a sense of high drama to the character relationships. Heat sometimes feels like Douglas Sirk with machine guns. I wonder if Mann will admit to this, but there’s a soap operatic quality to his storytelling and I find that enthralling. It’s Big Drama, even when everyone on screen says so little.
Jack: I think you see that whenever Eady and Neil are together. There’s something almost unworldly and dreamlike about how Mann shoots them. She’ll radiate intense light, while he’ll project darkness. As grounded as the movie is, even simple exchanges have that operatic quality you’re talking about.
Jacob: We’ll eventually have to talk about that big shootout, but I’m inspired by something you sent over in your notes. In the first heist, we watch Waingro kill a security guard in cold blood, but then the other members of the team execute the other two. It’s presented as a pragmatic decision – with one murder already on their hands, they might as well ensure there aren’t any witnesses. From the first scene, Heat is telling us that these are bad guys and then daring us to like them anyway and want them to escape. I feel like the opposite can be said for Al Pacino’s character, who is the “good guy” despite often coming off like a lunatic.
Jack: Pacino has the most destructive personality of all the leads in the movie, despite being the “good guy.” It’s funny, you saying he’s a lunatic, because watching it again and knowing the character had a cocaine addiction removed from the film, you can guess when and where the character is probably hopped up on coke. Whenever he goes big – and I think Pacino is one of the few who can stay human while going this big – it’s funny, for one thing, but I think it also shows what intense pressure the character is under. He deals with life and death stakes every day. He acts a little different because he is different. He sees the world in a way Justine and others do not. Going about another bad day with a sense of humor keeps him sane, I imagine. As insane as he acts or looks, he’s probably the most sane character in the movie, though. One thing I hadn’t thought before is how funny Heat can be. Michael Mann’s movies aren’t humorless, but they’re usually not as funny as this one. Most of the laughs come from Pacino. The scene where he takes the television and kicks it out of his car is a scene you’re expect from a broad comedy, not an epic crime drama.
The post The New ‘Heat’ Blu-ray is a Reminder That Michael Mann’s 1995 Thriller is a Masterpiece appeared first on /Film.