I’ve had this envy for movie buffs who could wholeheartedly enjoy those high voltage action dramas that I find excruciatingly painful and tiring to sit through. This has probably got a lot to do with the kind of films I grew up watching and the films that got me into serious cinema. Or perhaps I haven’t watched too many from the genre that managed to captivate and engross me for a decent 120 minutes which makes my ostensible bias against the genre seem a little too unfair. However, rewinding back to a couple of years, I remember coming across this heist/action thriller by the name of ‘Heat’. This was a time when I was naïve enough to pick out films based on their IMDB plot descriptions. The ratings were impressive but all I asked myself was, “How am I going to sit through 170 minutes of mere shootouts, chase sequences and a cat and mouse cop drama?” I soon got my reasons. Two of them – Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. To watch two of the greatest actors jamming on-screen together was in no way an offer I could refuse. So I figured, “Hell! Why not?” And so I went for it all guns blazing.
There are films that instantly wows you with its ostentatious traits but its magic, more often than not, gets waned on repeat viewings. Action thrillers are the strongest contenders to fall into this category. And while a number of classics from this genre, in my opinion, have struggled to sustain its re-watch value thanks to their proclivity for style over substance, Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’ is one that stands the test of time despite its genre barricades. A film about urban lives and the fear and failure of confronting one’s own identity beneath the façade that masks our inner conflicts in a flashy urban society, ‘Heat’ is a dazzling, electrifying piece of cinema with deliciously well crafted moments of pure cinematic orgasm. ‘Heat’ is a film that edified and broadened my perspectives on the experience of what great cinema could be with solid writing, exquisite cinematography and phenomenal direction. I do not claim myself to be the ultimate authority in judging cinema and my taste isn’t any superior to the rest. But like any other writer who writes purely for the love and passion of cinema, here I put forward my reasons as to why I believe ‘Heat’ is the best action/ heist drama ever made.
The Vibrant, Seductive Nights of Los Angeles
One of the finest aspects of the film lies in its immaculate level of detailing with respect to its characters and how exquisitely Michael Mann makes use of the ravishing beauty of the vibrant, seductive nights of the City of Angels to reflect upon the subconscious of his characters. There is a deeply concealed sense of melancholy in the characters that makes them so much more compelling, intriguing and human than what their daylight facades evince. Throughout the film, it is during the nights when we see the characters confronting and recognizing their inner truth and coming to terms with the moral obscurities of their choices, the perennial battle with one’s own inner demons and desires long lost in the hazy paths of city life. In one of the film’s best moments, we see Neil sharing a delicate moment that is so full of warmth and tenderness with Eady, a young, attractive woman he met in a coffee shop. In a night brimming with passionate desires and erotic undertones, Neil realizes he is ensnared by the complex web of love and desires in a tiny moment of losing out on to his frailties.
The Dashing Duo of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro
Action thriller flicks are generally not known for extracting memorably powerful performances from the actors. Michael Mann with his sheer vision and audacity pushes the film well beyond the boundaries of a genre infamous for churning out blatantly monotonous flicks and playing within its confines and in the process, brings the best out of his actors. His casting of the two leads, in particular, turned out to be a masterstroke. It’s hard to imagine anything possibly going wrong when a director, breathing fire on one end, sneaks in two of the greatest actors in cinema while interestingly drawing parallels between the characters they play in the film and their iconic stature and professional rivalry off-screen. In a film that poses itself out to be an intense cat and mouse contest between a cop and a highly professional, seasoned criminal, there couldn’t have been a better choice of actors for the part of the two leads. Pacino plays the emotionally wrecked, watchful detective looking to nab his unassailably brilliant foe played by Robert De Niro. While Pacino plays Vincent Hanna with absolute swagger and intimidating charisma, De Niro powerfully underplays Neil McCauley and the tension between their characters lurks throughout the film which pretty much sets up the film’s overall tonality. Their casting is one of the most dominant factors that contributed to the film’s iconic, cult status over the years and I can only imagine how forgettable the famous restaurant scene would have turned out to be if not for these two acting giants of cinema.