Film appreciation: Heat - unusual cops and robbers film

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 March, 2015, 10:51pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 March, 2015, 10:51pm

Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer
Director: Michael Mann

The promise of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino sharing the big screen made sure that Heat was an instant box office hit when it opened in 1995. The two cinema legends absolutely made the film, but there was even more to Heat that would ensure it became a classic.

This is no regular "cops and robbers" flick. Director Michael Mann, who was not only behind the camera but also wrote the script, crafts a cool, measured and stylish film. This was a project he'd been sitting on for a long time and he wanted it to be perfect. His research, attention to detail and the demands he made on the cast all paid off.

The idea for the movie had come 20 years earlier. In the mid-1970s his friend Chuck Adamson, a former Chicago detective turned writer ( Miami Vice and Crime Story), shared with him his real-life experience of tracking down professional thief Neil McCauley. Along the way Adamson met the criminal for coffee, talked to him and found him to be smart and determined just like himself. His respect for McCauley was made all the more poignant when he intercepted him during an armed robbery and shot him dead.

Mann was struck by this idea of a cop who admires a criminal and vice versa. He first used the premise for a TV movie, LA Takedown (1989), but it wasn't until the mid-1990s that he got to really run with it. At almost three hours, Heat is a long movie, but the action scenes and complexity of the characters keep it moving at a steady click. Unlike regular robbery flicks, where the focus is on the shoot-ups, we get to see what is going on inside the heads of the two single-minded men on opposing sides of the law. We see how their work affects their love lives and marriages, as well as their own existential crises.

The detail about his characters' lives was all carefully researched. Mann did all he could to get close to his subjects. He spent several weeks driving around in a Los Angeles police squad car, brought in a former SAS soldier to give the actors weapons training, and had the cast read No Beast So Fierce, a book by criminal turned author Eddie Bunker (he even hired Bunker as a technical consultant on the movie). It's this meticulous attention to detail that gives Heat its authenticity.

De Niro and Pacino get under the skin of their characters. De Niro plays McCauley with restraint as a quiet, intelligent and thoughtful man. Pacino plays the cop Vincent Hanna with much more swagger and balls. With first-class performances by De Niro and Pacino, Heat is as much a film about two strong and uncompromising men as it is a crime thriller.