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Is It Just Me? … or is Michael Mann’s Heat not so hot?

In our regular polarising-opinion series, Total Film contributor Neil Mitchell asks, ‘Is it just me? … or is Michael Mann’s Heat not so hot?

Michael Mann’s neo-noir ‘Los Angeles crime saga’ Heat (1995) has an 86 per cent ‘fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes , an 8.3 average on IMDb and was given 3.5 out of four stars by the late Roger Ebert. I’m not aiming to be a contrarian… but are you kidding me?

Heat is Hollywood pomposity at its worst, bloated yet empty, often dumb and populated by uninteresting, two-dimensional characters. I’m convinced that some sort of misguided reverence is being paid to Mann and his two leading actors, Messrs. Pacino and De Niro; all three of whom have undoubtedly played pivotal roles in modern American cinema. Just not with Heat.

The plot and script are tired and well worn, the subjects undeserving of the mythic status Mann was so desperate to attribute to them. I’m sorry Heat lovers, but Pacino’s career cop Vincent Hanna (the one with the obligatory disastrous personal life) and De Niro’s über-professional, hardened criminal Neil McCauley (a man who falls in love on a first date) are just, well, dull. McCauley’s amateurish lapse of concentration in letting

Kevin Gage’s Waingro escape is one of a number of stupid incidents that hamper the movie. And am I really expected to buy that Hanna could throw Hugh (Henry Rollins) through a glass door? Rollins is made out of granite. No one’s throwing him anywhere.

Also, at the end, would it not have made more sense to dispatch one of the cops who actually knew what crim Chris (Val Kilmer) looked like to get a cast-iron identification? Losing a dreadful ponytail may be a wise fashion move but it doesn’t make you a master of disguise. So much for Hanna’s team being LA’s finest.

There’s no doubt that Heat has some major plus points: Mann’s direction is assured and controlled, the location work as impressive as you’d expect from a director fascinated by the effects of environments on their inhabitants, and the centerpiece shoot-out between cops and robbers is immaculately constructed. But the fact that I had to wait until the one-hour-40 mark for bullets to start flying is just another thing that irritates me about this ‘masterpiece’.

It’s all surface and no depth. The female characters are an afterthought, as many in Mann’s oeuvre are, the African-American ones mere tokenism and all of the relationships are wafer-thin. Surely a movie close to three hours in length could have given us more fully rounded secondary characters rather than the ciphers it lazily presents us with?

Finally, what of that first, long-awaited, face-to-face meeting of the acting giants of their generation? The fact that it’s understated is neat; the fact that Hanna talks about a recurring dream isn’t. My eyes glazed over as fast as they do when people in real life talk about their dreams. It was an opportunity wasted, deflating instead of gripping.

I’ve seen Heat numerous times and on each and every occasion it’s been cold, uninspired, daft and hugely overrated… or is it just me?

1 comment

  • BULLITT65 - November 20, 2014 10:15 p.m.

    You are mistaken. Heat was awesome then and stands the test of time. Its in my top 5, along with BLADE RUNNER, The good the bad and the ugly, Life is Beautiful and of corse BULLITT. If you haven't seen these movies, do not read a synopsis of them on wikipedia, go rent or download them, you will be in for a treat. No movie is with out fault, or has flawless scenes throughout, but each of these films were so great, that all of them have been borrowed from or copied for years, and will continue to show up in movies to come because of cinematography, the character development, the realism, the locations.

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