As far as Michael Mann’s career has gone he’s managed to make a lot of lengthy and often considered great dramas in the past couple decades. While many argue over the quality of his more recent outings like Hancock or Miami Vice, few deny that his earlier works were some of his best. And one of those oft-praised works is Heat, the first film in which acting heavyweights DeNiro and Pacino showdown (their later pairing, Righteous Kill, proved to be a disappointment of epic proportions). With a supporting cast that includes Val Kilmer, Ashley Judd, Jon Voight, and a slew of other talent that has blown up since the release of this film, Heat caught the eyes of critics who ate the film up. Audiences were largely enamored with the film as well, although the near three-hour run time kept many out of theaters during its initial run.
When Al Pacino and Robert De Niro squarer off, HEAT sizzles. A tale of a brilliant L.A. cop (Pacino) following the trail from a deadly armed robbery to a crew headed by an equally brilliant master thief (De Niro). Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Ashley Judd and Natalie Portman co-star.
The reputation of this film is so enormous that the packaging for this Blu-ray release doesn’t even include a synopsis of the film. Only a brief mention of Mann’s previous works and that this film is a “contemporary action classic” is included, along with a quote from a critic, and for most that is enough to sell this film. For me I unfortunately am quite adverse to the whole idea that this is an infallible dramatic classic from the 90s, not because of any real flaw with the story of the film itself but more so with the pacing and dialogue that inhabits the film.
Let me expound on this before those who love this film throw their hands up in frustration. Simply put, I don’t like Al Pacino. I’ve yet to really see him in anything, Godfather series notwithstanding, that he didn’t annoy me greatly in. He alone quite honestly ruins the majority of this movie for me, with his bug eyed portrayal of a cop bent on catching professional thieves that utters such random lines as “Because she’s got a… GREAT ASS!” Granted I know what you’re saying: “Pacino ad-libbed that on the spot!” Yes that’s wonderful. But it doesn’t help the fact that I feel his character was very sporadic and hard to pin down. Everyone else in this film had proper characterization and plenty of depth, but Pacino just…never made much sense to me. I’m sure in some ways he’s a fantastic actor, but I really have never found him to be entertaining in the least (the only thing I didn’t hate him in was Insomnia, which in of itself was a rather boring film).
So now that I’ve blasted one of the most loved actors in Hollywood, I can continue on with my feelings on Heat. Although my first viewing of the film let me with a feeling of disappointment, this Blu-ray reviewing was a bit more improved. Knowing that Pacino was going to irk me to no end I was able to ignore him a bit more this time around and focus on the other characters more. Quite honestly this film is really quite fantastic executed, with a lot of plot twisting and turning and exposition of even the most minor of characters. While the film had a bunch of action, it was spread out across the near three hours that it ran so it never felt overly dramatic or overloaded with action at any one moment. It very much is a film that makes you think as you watch it, which can be a bit disorienting at first because you expect some massive showdown between Pacino and DeNiro, which really never comes. Their on-screen time together is extremely limited and considering you go the entire film just waiting for those ending moments, you can’t but help feel a bit disappointed in the end.
Maybe it’s the way the film makes you want to root for the bad guys, but the ending did leave me feeling disappointed on both viewings. I can see why people enjoy this film so much, but for me it’s an overly long production with very little payoff. If I invest more than two hours into a film I want to be rewarded with something in the end, but there truly isn’t anything pleasing about the end to me. I understand why it was executed the way it was, but it…well, I guess it just paralleled reality a little too much.
I had hoped a second viewing would help me get into the film more, but I’m still unable to appreciate it as much as the vast majority of its audience was able to. Once you get through the symbolism and the real essence of the story, the film just simply goes on too long for it to all matter in the end. And although I honestly tried, I just couldn’t get past Pacino. I really tried, but in the end the films hyper-realism, superb action (the silence compounded with gunshots really make that heist towards the end of the film just stick out in your head as one of the greatest uses of visuals and audio to make a scene), and strong cast of characters were no match for the detractors that I found to be too persistent to ignore. Still a Recommended viewing for those who haven’t seen it, however, as there is some truly great cinematography and acting to be had here amidst the turmoil.
Warner Home Video releases Heat on Blu-ray with a Michael Mann supervised 1080p transfer. The set itself arrives in a standard Elite Blu-ray case without any kind of frills aside from the usual insert for firmware upgrades. Disc art mimics the cover and the film, as with most Warner titles, auto-loads so you can access the menu via pop-up if you so desire.
Video is a VC-1 encoded affair and if you’ve seen the film on DVD previously, then you should be pretty familiar with the aesthetics of it all. Like the cover itself, Heat is cast in a blue hue for the majority of the film, which gives a cool look for most of the transfer (nighttime sequences are just about the only times the camera lightens up). Detail is fantastic for a fourteen year old film and you’d be hard-pressed to find anything visually wrong with the transfer, although it isn’t quite as digitally shiny as newer productions are. That’s honestly the only quibble to take with this film, as the transfer is pristine but it doesn’t blow you away quite as you would hope with a big “contemporary classic” as this one. Having said that the transfer blasts the previous DVD one out of the water, as there are details you see here that DVD could never hope to achieve; but even with all that it does right there’s still nothing about this transfer that looks as good as Miami Vice did on Blu-ray (although I hated that movie, so it was really only the technical transfer that helped that release).
Audio is a booming TrueHD 5.1 mix. While it’s true the film isn’t action for the entire period it runs, Elliot Goldenthal’s score is constantly alive in the surrounds and LFE, making for a very lively and robust track from start to finish. Dialogue is pristine and clear, although the levels seem to be a bit uneven. During the quieter sequences the dialogue can be a bit too quiet and once you up the volume from that the gunshots pound you in the chest so loudly you scramble to lower the volume again. That only happened a few times in the film, but it could have stood to be a bit more even. Other than that, however, the audio mix is quite a treat to listen to, especially during that final robbery sequence (though the hotel evacuation isn’t bad either).
Extras are all repeated from the previous two-disc DVD release and include:
Commentary by Writer/Producer/Director Michael Mann
11 Additional Scenes (~11 minutes)
True Crime: Recalling the Real-Life Chicago Cop and Criminal Whose Exploits Inspired the Movie (14:44)
Crime Stories: The Screenplay’s 20-Year History and How the Movie Finally Got Greenlit (20:25)
Into the Fire: Filming in L.A., Cast Training, Shooting the Climactic Downtown Heist and Post-Production. (24:00)
Pacino and De Niro: The Conversation: Anatomy of This Historic On-Screen Showdown. (9:55)
Return to the Scene of the Crime: Revisiting the Film’s Real-Life L.A. Locations Years Later. (12:02)
All of the extras are in standard definition, but they’re pretty lengthy and worth checking out if you enjoyed the film. Mann’s commentary can get a bit too dry at times, but overall it’s a solid package for the fans of the film. If you are a fan, however, you likely already own the two-disc DVD which all of these extras are from so there’s nothing new here except for the bump in A/V quality, which may be worth it for some (especially considering this Blu-ray is, as of this writing, only $15 on Amazon).
Overall a Recommended disc whether you’ve seen it or not. There’s enough in this film to watch it multiple times even if you’re like me and didn’t enjoy everything about it; I wish I could’ve gotten into it as much as others did, but even so there are some real highlights to be seen here and a lot of this film has no doubt inspired more modern action/drama like it (which may be another reason I didn’t find this film as amazing as others did in 1995).
Heat is now available on Blu-ray.