THERE are directors who are good at telling a story and there are those that are good at visually drawing the audience in. There are very few who are capable of combining the two together. Michael Mann is one of those who can do both and here in ‘Heat’ it is obvious.
Mann does what he does best here, taking a standard crime plot, the group of thieves robbing stock situation. But then story wise Mann adds layers of textures to the plot but most importantly to the characters.
For film fans this marks the first time two screen gods in Al Pacino and Robert De Niro share a screen. When you have Al Pacino and Robert De Niro at your disposal, it would be a crime worthy of the electric chair not to give them complex characters to get their teeth into them.
In ‘Heat’ you get exactly that, De Niro playing the calculating yet complex villain whilst Pacino is the dedicated detective. The two play off one another even when they are not on screen together such are the characters. They are simple enough for the audience to be able to engage with the film and not get too bogged down in character analysis. The characters are poetic without sounding cliché.
Then there is Mann’s stewardship, who when he’s not trying to reinvent the wheel is at his best and he borrows a little from different bits of his past to deliver to deliver a gripping action package.
Here he inverts the colour pallets of TV series Miami Vice on which Mann was producer – the order of the day is moody blues and greys – but uses similar cinematic principles to Miami Vice to deliver a visually spectacular film. Never more evident than when Pacino’s character Vincent Hanna is following De Niro’s Neil McCauley before they stop off for a coffee (which sees the two finest actors of their generation together on screen for the first time).
De Niro and Pacino have such a presence that they can make the two having a conversation over a cup of tea riveting and then there is the climax of this film, which also features textbook Mann playing deftly with the lighting to deliver a suspenseful set piece.
The only negative is a few of the violent sequences can come across as trivial and border on crass. But the story is strong, the characters are stronger, the cast is probably one of the strongest as Val Kilmer, Jon Voight and Natalie Portman complete the line-up and Mann is in rude health behind the lens.