The Long Warm-Up to Heat

Heat opens with a botched heist, but it unlike every other crime picture that came out in the five years after Pulp Fiction, it's not a black comedy. I think that's Val Kilmer under the hockey mask.Michael Mann’s Heat, one of my favorite films, is The Dissolve‘s Movie of the Week this week. I contributed this essay about the sprawling crime picture’s many progenitors, including the short-lived-but-great late-80s TV series Crime Story. 

You’ll want to read Scott Tobias’ keynote and Nathan Rabin & Matthew Dessem’s forum discussion, too. The latter is where I learned that Kate Mantilini, the Beverly Hills bistro where Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro‘s famous late-night sit-down in Heat was shot, closed last year. When last I was there, in 2005, a giant still from The Scene – the first-time the two 1970s stars had appeared together, despite having co-starred in The Godfather, Part II, 21 years earlier – hung on the wall.


Heat was reasonably well received upon its release in December 1995. It made money, but it wasn’t a blockbuster. Like many of Michael Mann’s pictures, particularly Thief and Manhunter, its reputation has grown over time. Still, I know people who find Heat to be overrated and overlong and overblown.

While I was researching this essay, I read a bunch of its reviews from 1995. One of my favorites was Stephen Hunter’s in the Baltimore Sun. (Not long after he wrote this, Hunter would move to the Washington Post and pen movie reviews and essays that I can still quote from after 17 or 18 years. He’s a crazy person who has said a lot of other stuff I that have zero interest in trying to defend, but he deserved his Pulitzer for criticism, if you ask me.) Hunter summed up the dichotomy of Mann, and his quintessential film, nicely:

This is glandular, not intellectual, movie-making but it’s at the highest end of technical expressiveness. Mann is a great stylist with cheap but potent ideas. He can make a city — even the scruffy environs of bleak L.A. — look like a $4 million sculpture by Picasso after a weekend of first-class absinthe drinking. His colors blaze out like tracer bullets and he can knit images into percussive action sequences that stomp you to pulp.

At the same time, the guy’s an idiot: He loves (and over-inflates) the sense of camaraderie that he imagines is felt between the best cops and the best robbers, and bases his long and violent heist film on the conceit of mutual respect and even affection between them, sentimentalizing it into a kind of caramelized apple of macho romance. It’s a good idea to build a movie on, but, despite all the shattered glass and ejected cartridge casings, about as convincing as a cancer cure from Oreo cookies.

Anyway, my Dissolve piece is not as eloquent or insightful as that, but I promise I’ll keep trying.

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