In days long gone by, it was fairly common to have a movie featuring several major stars. Now, with the passing of the studio contract system and the advent of the multi-million dollar price tag on most major stars, it is rare that a movie contains more than one heavy-duty star. Heat is definitely the exception. Director Michael Mann has assembled two of the best know and acclaimed actors of our time, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. The story provides an interesting twist on the old cops and robbers screenplay. De Niro is Neil McCauley, a master thief. In fact, master thief hardly does this character justice. He is the best there is. He is professional, well disciplined and meticulous in every detail. Among his crew is Val Kilmer as Chris, the technical wizard, Tom Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan) as the muscle and Jon Voight as Nate, the fence and set up man. The movie opens with an armored car robbery that looks more like a military operation than a stick up. Nothing is left to chance and each move is timed to the second. Hot on the trail of the master thieves is the master detective, Vincent Hanna. Vince is every bit as much a professional in catching robbery crews as Neil is in forming them. Both men operate in their own circles yet they are draw together as inevitable adversaries. Vincents life is basically circling the drain. He is on his third marriage to a wife that resents his constant devotion to his job. His stepdaughter is always depressed because her biological father always blows off their time together. Diane Venora (Wolfen) and Natalie Portman (Leon, Phantom Menace) do an excellent job of playing the ladies in Vinces life. The movie does not ignore the home lives of the criminals. Neil picks up a young woman Amy Brenneman, and breaks his own rule by beginning to become emotionally attached to her. Chris also has a rough home life. His wife (Ashley Judd) is feed up with his constant disappearances and gets back at him by having an affair with a nobody crook played by Hank Azaria. So much for the cast, it couldnt get any better.
The film primarily follows the lives of Neil, Vincent and Chris with a few scenes to round out the cast. The movie needs its almost three hours of screen time to fully develop these characters and provide the audience with the background needed to understand why these characters act the way they do. There was a big problem with the director when a broadcast TV network drastically altered his work. The name of the director was changed from Michael Mann to Allen Smithee (the standard Hollywood pseudonym) Yes, the movie is long but it is necessary. Most action movies seek only to blow things up, shoot things up and have a happy ending all within two hours. The scope of this movie is far broader than that. It sets out to develop the depth of the characters more than the typical action thriller. Nobody in the movie seems to have even a modicum of happiness in their lives. De Niros character is so desperate for a relationship that he risks a well paying life of crime for a young woman he just met. Pacinos character is on his third wife and has to content not only with the crime spree of De Niros crew but also the infidelity of his wife and the attempted suicide of his step daughter. Kilmers wife played by Ashley Judd is also cheating on her husband. All in all, not a moment of happiness to be found in the whole film. While this paints a dark picture for the audience, it also sets the stage for some excellent cinematic moments. The first scene with both De Niro and Pacino is priceless!! The two adversaries sharing a cup of coffee while chatting about their professional philosophy and aspirations.
The DVD itself is extremely well done. The picture quality is virtually unmarred. On my copy there did seem to be a bit of delay when the disc shifted to the second layer. Still, the overall clarity was amazing. Considering the wide range of lighting the picture remained as clear in the night scenes as it does during the bright daylight. What makes this more amazing is the whole movie was shot on location, no sound stage was used. The audio is spectacular. The ambient sounds are clear, crisp and well mixed. When a gun goes off you hear the shell casing as it hits the ground and rolls across the floor. There are several shots with distant thunder, always a crowd pleaser for Dolby 5.1 lovers. The thunder smoothly rolls behind you from one speaker to the next. This movie is long, involved but worth the time and effort required to watch and follow the plot. A keeper!