Thoughts on Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’ (1995)

Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in Heat (1995)

Over the course of the running time I probably thought of a good half dozen quips that could come here. I’ve since forgotten them all.

Mann makes three hours of poor decisions and fractured lives easier and quicker to watch than I’d have ever thought possible. He has his fun, but is more concerned with staring directly into the sadness and emptiness of these guys lives.

Most affecting for me was how efficiently and sparely he would utilise his minor characters. How Natalie Portman and William Fichtner (kinda to a lesser extent Dennis Haysbert too) disappear for long stretches, appearing in order for us to be shocked how these characters — so tied up in their own worlds — have completely upended their lives.

Is this when Mann’s film started to be really cool? Like, he had some successes before but this stands on its own as an icon. I suppose it would be wrong to blame Mann for the faults of those who misread his films, but its impossible to ignore how seemingly these women have been burned into the mind of every MRA.

The intent seems clear, Mann exposing these men’s fragile masculinity, how their approach to their personal lives is wholly self sabotaging. It’s why early on he juxtaposes the three core relationships against each other, as he lays down on the table their individual flaws. But I dunno, I’ve sure seen the scene where Pacino gets cucked, or how he explains keeping his work from his wife.

I dunno, compare them to the parade of weak willed, superficially feminine men set up to be explicit villains. I mean, it’s them and the neo-nazi.

It’s not entirely the film’s fault. I mean, outside of Amy Brenneman’s girlfriend character, just about everybody is implicated in their own undoing.

I kinda just admire how slow and sad it is and how it takes the time to lay out how these folks go about dismantling their lives. After all the time Manhunter dedicated to procedure, this cuts it back to a minimum. All that time the tracking devices reduced down to Pacino shouting ‘They dumped us!’

He’s great here, as are De Niro and Kilmer. I guess I’ve never really seen it before. They work in broad strokes a lot of the time, be angry, be happy, be melancholy. There’s detailing here, and they make the whole thing seem so effortless.

My hurdle might always have been that it’s three hours long, but coming out the other side there’s not a second I would cut.

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