By Scott Ross
Michael Mann’s complex, character-driven heist movie has the texture of a sun-lit nightmare: L.A. as a warm place to die a chilly death.
Carefully balanced between the action sequences — and they’re both technically brilliant and horrific in their depiction of wanton violence engaged in with cool aplomb — are two lives on parallel, descending arcs. Al Pacino’s driven cop and Robert DeNiro’s ruthless thief are two sides of a very similar coin, a device Mann makes beautifully concrete in the stars’ mid-point tête-à-tête in an off-highway restaurant.
Heat is no Rafifi: the nature of the job De Niro’s gang pulls off is mutable — almost incidental; if one doesn’t pan out, there’s always another. What matters for them is performance; for the audience, it’s context. Pacino’s explosive single-mindedness makes it clear we’re lost in a universe with no clear ethical boundaries. Who the hell do we root for? The homicidal thief who approaches his profession like an artist, or the police detective who yells into people’s faces to unnerve them? (Pacino has a field-day with the shtick; when he hollers, “Because she’s got a great ass!” at a recalcitrant criminal, the moment is both funny and appalling.)
With Ashley Judd, spectacularly effective as Val Kilmer’s impatient wife, and Kevin Gage as Waingro, the scariest ex-con since Robert Mitchum menaced Gregory Peck in Cape Fear.
Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross