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The Vault: Heat (1995)

Michael Mann’s nearly three hour epic is grand in scale, but lacking in emotion. Cop procedurals typically induce strong feelings for the characters involved. It’s not until the final 45 minutes of the picture – which is masterful – that you start to understand, perhaps even sympathize for a couple of these thieves.

In fact the latter of the picture is everything Heat wants to be: compelling, emotionally driven, and enthralling. Instead what comes before the third act is equal measures sluggish and cliched.

The film follows the lives of two men on opposite sides of the law – Hanna played by Al Pacino is a detective and Neil played by Robert De Niro is a thief. After a large robbery, Hanna (who is the sure thing type cop) is assigned to investigate the scene to see who is responsible and when and where they can catch these criminals. But Neil is no ordinary crook. He’s smart and lays out meticulous operations for him and his team – it’s not wonder why they’ve never been caught.

Heat explores the issue at heart here: the reluctancy to leave what we know. In many ways the two – both cop and criminal – need each other. They thrive off one another’s actions and mistakes. They work all day and night to catch and avoid each other – eventually rounding out in one big circle.

The two meet in the film. It’s undoubtedly the best scene in the picture: subtle, moving, and full of nuance. Both on opposite ends of the law, sit across from one another at a coffee shop. They chat about life and their respected duties. And then, the conversation ends appropriately when both individuals agree that what they do, is the only thing they can and will do.
As humans we stay close to what we know: it’s definite and safe. To venture is to risk leaving our comfort zone. We know, deep down, that both Niel and Hanna won’t quit until one of them is dead: it’s the sad truth.

Heat is a touchstone in the Police procedurals – the acting is top-of-the-line and Mann’s story is compelling. Despite having some underwritten characters (every female in the picture) and a perplexing (not to mention sluggish) opening hour, Mann should (and is by many) be acknowledged for his work.However, I’m touching on a different aspect of the film. What Heat is known for is that famous and bombastic action sequence in the middle of the city. The scene is choreographed with expertise by Mann. Even as film transpires and the years pass, that scene so meticulous and brilliant, will always be remembered.

With every shot beautifully rendered and a score that builds up tension and emotion brilliantly, Heat contains spurts of greatness. I cherish the subtleties, though far and few, in the picture. The underlining  conflicts between the two leads is, make no mistake, the driving force here. But it calls into question: With a trim in run time, could Heat be that legendary classic everyone makes it out to be? One can always imagine the possibilities.

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