Thursday, April 3, 2014



This week was, of course, New Years and it was just a tad too eventful for my taste. Naturally, I was invited to a major gala function at the Beverly Hills Hotel where I had a few cocktails and traded decorating tips with Esther Williams (fond of tile) and Lauren Bacall. Margo Channing was also there, crowing about some new project but I ducked into the Polo Lounge in order to avoid her. There I ordered an Irish Coffee and added a little bit of that Special K nutritive additive that Corey Haim gave me several weeks ago.

I don't recall much about the rest of the party, but I vaguely remember executing my flaming baton tap routine with the help of a couple of Cherries Jubilee deserts and then being taken home in a taxi. The taxi driver must have gotten the address for Chateau Maine wrong as I seemed to have entered my next door neighbor's home instead. I fell asleep in Johnny Carson's spare bedroom and awoke to find him hovered over me, apparently ready to give me some sort of deep kiss. I shrieked. He stated he was worried about the state of my health and only wanted to give me mouth to mouth resuscitation (but did not explain why he had removed his shirt first). I high tailed it across the lawn to my own home and collapsed in my own bed. Madame Rose, my publicist, woke me far too early the next morning - something about a 'drunken drug fueled orgy' item running in the tabloids. I told her just to take care of it, poured a strong cup of coffee, and retired to the home theater with a lengthy film in order to wake myself up.

My choice was Michael Mann's cops and robbers epic, Heat, from 1995. This film, with Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, fronting a large ensemble cast, is an in depth look at the professional and personal lives of a bunch of high level thieves and of the detectives who attempt to keep them from scoring again. The film earned critical plaudits, but public indifference in its original theatrical engagement but has become a home video find and something of a classic in the genre.

DeNiro is Neil McCauley, leader of the robbers. He's a meticulous, thorough professional who knows what it takes to win on the street. His motto is 'never tie yourself to anyone or anything you can't walk away from if you see the Heat around the corner'. In one of many subplots, he falls for the lovely Eady (Amy Brenneman) and ultimately, has to decide if he can live up to this dictum. DeNiro's accomplices include Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore and Jon Voight. The epic length allows all of these talented actors the ability to develop well rounded characters, personal lives (another elaborate subplot involves Kilmer's relationship with his wife, Ashley Judd), and invests some pathos into their fates when their carefully constructed heist plan starts to go wrong.

On the cops side, Pacino is the lead detective Vincent Hanna. Struggling to balance a failing marriage with his third wife (Diane Venora), a troubled step daughter (Natalie Portman), and the demands of his job. His associates include such familiar character faces as Wes Studi, Ted Levine and Mykelti Williamson. An earlier armored car robbery by the gang had gone bad and he's eager to catch them before anyone else can be hurt. Other subplots include Hank Azaria as Judd's paramour and William Fichtner as a cowardly, though villainous, broker.

Mann, who wrote the screenplay as well as directing, tells his tale well. Despite the tangential subplots (some of which are awfully melodramatic), the film is never dull or dragging, as each new scene brings some fresh insight into character. The film should have been edited some for length (it's nearly three hours), but to do so would have diminished the richness of characters and story. The one sequence which could conceivably be easily tightened is the epic gun battle between the two sides which occupies much of downtown Los Angeles about two thirds of the way through. It's beautifully staged and filmed but we would have understood what happened with a lot less of it.

As a director, Mann remains a master, one of the most interesting aspects of the film is his use of symmetry and mirror imagery throughout. The DeNiro and Pacino characters are, in many ways, reflections of each other. Both are meticulous men at the top of their craft, dedicated to what they do. Mann emphasizes this most strikingly by never having the two actors in frame at the same time throughout the film, unless one is reflected in a mirror. Having two major stars headline a film together and, despite a number of key scenes together, never actually appear together, was a gutsy move and psychologically right. It gives the physical distance between them that their characters have psychologically as one has chosen 'good' and one 'evil'. Which character is which is, as in real life, somewhat ambiguous.

Dante Spinotti, Mann's usual director of photography, drenches Los Angeles in cool blue, vaguely menacing hues. The sound, both music and ambient, also adds to the mood. The film can be visceral and violent, but also beautiful, as it explores complex humans caught in a volatile situation.

The cast is excellent. DeNiro and Pacino are both at the top of their game and their performances bolster those of the top notch supporting cast. Even Val Kilmer tames his mannerisms to play a character. Ashley Judd is, perhaps, the weakest, but the women's roles are not as strongly written as the men's.

The DVD has no major extras beside the film in widescreen. Both picture and sound transfer are quite good.

Flipped armored car. Tattooed villain. Missing barrette. Graphic design studio. Cop in Chop Shop. Gratuitous wrist slitting. Abandoned Drive-In shootout. Airport runway climax.

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