Blu-ray Review: Heat

Unbelievably, Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro had never worked together before 1995. Their names were almost always associated with each other, having created some of the greatest film characters of all time. Their combined works included masterpieces such as The Godfather, Scarface, Goodfellas, etc., and at last, writer/director Michael Mann was bringing these two acting legends together for a new crime epic called Heat.

Finally out on Blu-Ray, Heat tells the story of master thief Neil McCauley and the cop, Vincent Hanna, determined to lock him away. DeNiro plays McCauley with an unsettling calm, a focused determination that makes him the best at what he does. On the flip side, Pacino plays Hanna as always on-edge, obsessing with McCauley’s capture to the point where he begins to sacrifice the wellbeing of his own family.

This is a thoroughly entertaining saga. The story is epic in scope and filled with a fascinating ensemble of characters, played by a who’s who of recognizable talent including Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, and many more. And yet what makes everything work so well is the relationship between the two main characters. They bring an introspective, personalized feel to a story that is much larger than the two of them.

In a masterstroke of screenwriting, Mann manages to make their relationship the centerpiece of the film, but DeNiro and Pacino have barely more than a scene together. They don’t even meet until an hour and half into the film (the movie runs about two hours and fifty minutes). Mann spends the first half of the movie establishing the story and the characters. And then, instead of giving the audience the anticipated big blowout confrontation you’d expect, he has them share a conversation over coffee. It is a powerfully intense sequence, smartly written and expertly performed.

Having been filmed in real locations all over Los Angeles, the film has a very naturalistic feel to it, grounded in a reality that makes the audience feel truly immersed in the world. Even the requisite shoot-outs have an authenticity to them that is rare in action sequences such as this. The Blu-Ray contains some terrific documentaries, including one which showcases the location scouts and what made each particular location stand out for them in deciding to film there. They revisit these locations today, and it’s fascinating to see how little things have changed.

There are also features focusing on the real-life people who inspired these characters and this story. Of particular interest is Chuck Adamson, from the Chicago Police Department. He basically is Vincent Hanna, and much of what happens in the film happened to him in real life. It’s pretty surreal to hear him tell stories from his life that are straight out of the movie.

One of the documentaries discusses how this story was initially being developed as a TV pilot called “LA Takedown.” I’m extremely grateful that they decided to turn this into a film instead. This is a powerhouse movie, and definitely a story that is more suited for the cinema rather than television. Having not seen the movie since the nineties, I loved getting to revisit the film on Blu-Ray. Warner Bros. did a great job with this disc. The picture looks fantastic, and there is a shoot-out that contains some of the best sound work I’ve heard in a long time. There is also a commentary track with Mann, trailers, and deleted scenes.

Overall, this is a great set for a great movie. The acting is so unbelievably good that it’s almost impossible not to get swept up in the film. Pacino and DeNiro have worked together since this movie, but they have never been able to recreate the magic from this first film. This is a great story with great characters, and this is a movie that deserves to be seen in the best format possible. I highly recommend Heat on Blu-Ray.

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