Showing posts with label Michael Mann. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Michael Mann. Show all posts

April 24, 2019

Dissecting Michael Mann's Heat on the One Heat Minute Podcast

Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) subdues Eady (Amy Brenneman) in Michael Mann's 1995 crime opus Heat.

Michael Mann is one of my favorite directors, if not the top choice. His films provide more depth with each repeat viewing, especially his best work. Mann's 1995 crime epic Heat is one of the best examples of a movie that appears simpler on the surface. It's about a lot more than cops and robbers chasing each other around Los Angeles. Its characters offer more than you'd expect, including the supporting players well beyond Robert De Niro's Neil McCauley and Al Pacino's Vincent Hanna. This is one of many reasons why I've enjoyed Blake Howard's podcast project One Heat Minute. Howard and his guests closely explore Heat, one minute at a time.

I was lucky enough to join Blake for Episode #129 of One Heat Minute. We covered Eady's (Amy Brenneman) realization that perhaps Neil isn't the right guy. The gorgeous nighttime shots of the hills of Los Angeles provide the perfect backdrop to her attempts to escape from Neil. Blake and I talked about Neil's real intentions in this relationship and how perhaps we shouldn't root for his success. It was a treat to play a small role in this awesome project. Blake's guests have included NY Times film critic Manohla Dargis, Heat cinematographer Dante Spinotti, author Jordan Harper, and many other film experts. You should definitely check out this podcast, which is inching closer to completion.

Trash (Mark Gregory) leads The Bronx Warriors against Hammer (Vic Morrow) in this silly movie.

Other Podcast Appearances

Back in January, I also joined Todd Liebenow on The Forgotten Filmcast to talk about the silly movie 1990: The Bronx Warriors. Led by the tall and strangely wooden Trash (Mark Gregory) a group of outlaws try to stay alive in a post-apocalyptic version of The Bronx. This low-budget film has some fun moments, including the over-the-top antics of Vic Morrow as Hammer. It was fun to talk with Todd once again about lesser-known movies that are worth checking out for curiosity if nothing else.

Finally, I spoke with author Brian Jay Jones on The Tomorrow Society Podcast about his biographies of Jim Henson and George Lucas. Brian's exhaustive books offer interesting portraits of both men that played such a huge role in television and movies. My podcast focuses on theme parks but sometimes veers towards movies with connections to the parks. Brian and I had fun chatting about Star Wars in particular given some of Lucas' controversial choices to keep changing his films. You can learn more about The Tomorrow Society Podcast and listen to all the interviews through Apple Podcasts.

August 3, 2011

The Three Heists of Michael Mann’s Heat (1995)

Al Pacino meets with Robert De Niro in Michael Mann's Heat.

Michael Mann’s epic tale of cops and robbers packs in enough story lines to make even the three-hour running time feel too brief. Released in 1995, Heat brings acting superstars Robert De Niro and Al Pacino together on screen for the first time. They both appeared in The Godfather Part II but in different time periods. Their only scene together (besides the brief finale) occurs at a coffee shop, and it reveals both actors at the top of their craft. Neither actor overplays the moment, which gives the scene a believable, naturalistic feeling. Following the themes of this marathon, I’m going to focus on the film’s three heists and what role they play in the overall story.

The Armored Car heist in Heat, which does not go well.

Heist #1: The Armored Car
Plenty of reviews have covered the plot of Heat, so I won't waste time describing the details up front. Instead, I’m going to jump right into the first heist, which occurs right at the beginning. The movie’s opening scene shows De Niro’s Neal McCauley strolling through a hospital and then stealing an ambulance. In a short period of time, we meet the other members of the gang — the pony-tailed Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer); Michael Cheritto (Tom Sizemore); Trejo (Danny Trejo); and Waingro (Kevin Cage), a new team member. With minimal dialogue, it’s clear that these guys are professionals, not your typical criminals. They’re aware of the police’s timetable of three minutes and act with brutal efficiency.

The professionalism of Neil’s crew is obvious compared to the wild card Waingro, who kills a cop for no reason and jeopardizes the score. The gang’s immediate response to kill the other cops shows that they can be vicious if necessary. The entire armored-car heist takes just over three minutes before they’re free and clear. Using a big-rig truck and well-timed explosives, they’re able to grab the prize and escape in time. The killing brings the Robbery Homicide division onto the scene, led by diehard Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), who recognizes an equally competent opponent in Neil. His description of the crew’s skills for his fellow cops also helps us understand their abilities. As the audience, we’ve barely met these guys, but Mann clearly identifies the even playing field between the criminals and the police.

Robert De Niro as Neil in Michael Mann's Heat

Heist #2: The Platinum
The least important heist of the three is the middle one, but it reveals more essential details about Neil’s approach. He doesn’t realize they’re being tailed by Vincent’s group, so this break-in will likely be the end. While Chris cuts through the safe to grab their target, Neil stands watch outside the nondescript building. Again, they work in near silence and don’t waste time on chit-chat. The only saving grace for them is a clumsy cop, who makes a noise and alerts Neil. Without even considering if the sound indicates trouble, he calls off the heist and they walk. It’s a lucky break, but Neil’s immediate decision to give up the loot shows his strict discipline. The rewards aren’t worth risking everything. This moment also turns the table on the cops, who won’t be able to sneak up on Neil’s crew again. The entire scene only lasts four minutes, but it again shows Mann’s masterful storytelling.

The bank robbery in Michael Mann's Heat, released in 1995.

Heist #3: The Bank
The first two heists were just a precursor to the ultimate score, which could generate more than $12 million. After discovering the cops’ presence, Neil seriously considers dropping the plan, which would fit with his approach. However, the bank is worth the risk, and this deviation leads them to ultimate disaster. Looking at the actual robbery, it again shows their professional approach. From the time they don the masks and take charge, less than five minutes pass before they’re exiting the bank. It’s a brilliant exercise in efficiency, but even that can’t deliver complete success. Once the cops arrive ready to stop them, a massive shootout on the streets of Los Angeles raises the intensity to a new level.

The shootout on the streets with Val Kilmer in Heat

This shootout works better than your typical gunfight because we’re engaged in both Neil and Vincent’s stories. It’s a great action sequence, and the higher stakes makes for an even more energetic showdown. This battle would be the highlight of many films, but the sequence takes place only two-thirds of the way through Heat. Instead of feeling let down afterwards, we’re still interested in the aftermath of the botched heist. Mann gives nearly all of the characters a chance to shine, even as they’re scrambling to avoid capture. During the final chase between Neil and Vincent, many viewers (including this one) are rooting for the criminal to escape. Neil’s actions have brought about death and destruction, but we’ve become interested enough in his story to hope for a positive conclusion for the character.

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