Special Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Amy Brenneman, Ashley Judd, Mykelti Williamson, Wes Studi, Ted Levine, Jon Voight
Director: Michael Mann
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 172 Minutes
Release Date: February 22, 2005

"You know, we're sitting here, you and I, like a couple of regular fellas. You do what you do, and I do what I gotta do. And now that we've been face to face, if I'm there and I gotta put you away, I won't like it. But I'll tell you, if it's between you and some poor bastard whose wife you're gonna turn into a widow...BROTHER, YOU ARE GOIN' DOWN."

"There's a flipside to that coin. What if you do got me boxed in, and I gotta put you down? Cause no matter what; you will not get in my way. We've been face to face, yeah. But I will not hesitate. Not for a second."

Film ****

Heat: A Los Angeles Crime Saga. To me, no other film had been given a more perfect description. Truth be told, Heat is the ESSENTIAL crime saga.

So many great films came from the 1990s. Even some of what I consider to be the all time greatest movies. High on that list is Heat, my pick as best film of 1995. Here was a film that managed to place two of our greatest actors, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, on the screen together for the first time. Although their onscreen time is limited to only two scenes, no other film could have been more perfect for the two legendary actors to collide in.

This is a bold epic film in a genre where the word "epic" does not necessarily apply. An action drama involving cops against crooks doesn't seem like the type of movie that would expand for a near three hour length. Then again, rarely has a movie in this genre taken human drama and mixed it in with authentic, razor sharp action violence. This stroke of genius helps elevate the movie in to the realms of movie greatness.

Heat also serves as crowning moment in the career of writer/director Michael Mann. His absorbing level of detail, in both directing and writing, resulted in what is the filmmaker's reigning masterpiece. Mann took his time in bringing this movie to the screen, with over 20 years of research from close associates in the police organization, whose real life work is very much reflected in the film.

Mann's script is a richly textured examination of hunters and prey in the form of cops and criminals in contemporary Los Angeles. It defies convention by examining these characters' lives, both on the job and off. Most unexpectedly, the story even takes time to view how the women attached to the cops and crooks are affected by their actions.

The film opens with professional thief Neil McCauley (De Niro) and his crew of associates preparing for a heist involving an armored car. The job goes south when a new arrival kills the security guards out of pure joy. As a result of this action, McCauley and his crew, whose operations result in clean getaways, may have attracted police attention as a result of this botched job.

This puts Robbery Homicide detective Vincent Hanna (Pacino) on their tail. Hanna is a veteran of the force, and has taken down many crews such as the one he is pursuing now. Hanna and his unit go to every length and attachment possible to nail McCauley's group. As it turns out, McCauley is planning one last daring heist before fleeing the country into retirement.

For Hanna, whose dedication to his job often consumes him, his home life is, as he phrases it, "a disaster zone". Having already gone through two divorces, his latest marriage to Justine (Diane Venora) is beginning to fall apart. Not only is the marriage becoming sour, but his teenage stepdaughter (Natalie Portman) is displaying severe signs of depression.

Hanna acknowledges that his primary commitment is to his job. Before Justine considered marrying him, he warned her that she was gonna have to share him with his work schedule. As of late, she sees him as nothing but an obsessive predator that searches for the scent of the prey, hunts them down, and commits to nothing more.

Meanwhile, McCauley finds an unexpected romantic connection. He has long lived by a code of allowing nothing to be involved in your life that you cannot walk out on if the heat is around the corner. When he meets Eady (Amy Brenneman), his discipline is challenged. She is a software designer. McCauley hides his profession and tells her he's an art dealer. Both are lonely souls, and become attached to one another in a heartbeat.

Another focus of the story is McCauley's apprentice, Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer), whose high stakes work and rocky gambling addiction take a toll on his wife, Charlene (Ashley Judd). They have a baby son, but she isn't too happy. When McCauley spots her at a motel with another man, he angrily instructs her to give Chris one more chance.

With Hanna tailing McCauley under 24 hour surveillance, there's still no hint as to where the crew will be striking next. And it becomes a complicated endeavor. With nothing yet to pin on McCauley, Hanna decides to simply confront the thief, by pulling him over and offering a cup of coffee.

The two men engage in a conversation. McCauley, as it turns out, has done major time in prison, and has no intention of going back. As the conversation progresses, Hanna and McCauley reveal that, although they are on opposite ends of a moral spectrum, they seem to have more in common than with anybody else. Both men are dedicated to their work, commit to the work and nothing else, and are both haunted by the same kinds of dreams.

It's a masterful scene that ranks among the greatest movie moments of all time, and one that Pacino and De Niro performed without rehearsal. As a result, the movie is goes far beyond whatever hype may have developed when word got around that these two legends were going toe to toe for the first time. Some may have been expecting more scenes between them, but Mann has delivered something more effective with this single scene than the hype could ever help to assume.

And the brilliance of the film doesn't end there. In addition to Hanna and McCauley's poetic exchange, Heat delivers what in my honest opinion is THE GREATEST ACTION SEQUENCE IN MOVIE HISTORY. As McCauley's crew pull off a big bank heist, they are met in the streets by cops, and what ensues is a loud, frightening and a most realistic shootout.

This sequence is tremendously powerful for a number of reasons. First, a lot has happened in the story leading up to it, thus you've spent a great deal of time with the characters and care what happens to them. Second, Mann's authenticity, by way of shooting this scene right smack dab in downtown L.A., with a handful of extras as frightened bystanders, is nothing short of astonishing. Thirdly, the level of high powered artillery used is simply mind blowing, and although the actors obviously went through extreme weapon training, I've never seen such outstanding physical maneuvering as a result. They look like they're all ready to go into battle.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but I don't think that the shootouts in The Matrix could begin to measure to this single sequence.

Most amazingly enough, Mann never lets his film run out of steam in its final half. Hanna and his unit close in on all angles and corners relating to McCauley's crew. Some escape, others don't. And the final sequence is a most heartbreaking moment, as one character has to make a crucial choice, no matter how painful it feels, involving love or freedom.

What we're left with is what can only be labeled as a true cinematic masterpiece, and one that only Michael Mann could deliver. With a great cast, brilliant writing and directing, masterful characters, big time action and intense drama, Heat is the true epitome of what great films are all about.

Video ***1/2

This exceedingly stylish film, where the L.A. setting is a crucial character, Warner has done a most splendid job with this transfer. I have viewed the original disc quite a number of times, and I do think that this new release presents a more touched up presentation. The image is terrifically crisp and tremendously sharp. Detail level is near-magnificent. Only setback is a case or two of noticeable color changes in some scenes, but that can't even begin to derail a movie with a 172 minute running time. A well done job, indeed!

Audio ****

The 5.1 mix is a most explosive one that delivers awesome sound power in more ways than one. Every possible sound element is given first-rate treatment. Dialogue, wonderful music, and set pieces are all magnificently handled in a presentation that provides high level sounding range. And when that shootout scene comes up, all I can say is...DUCK! It's as explosive as they come. A marvelous piece of sound, for a film that truly deserves the treatment.

Features ****

Being that it's one of my all time favorite movies, I couldn't wait to hear the day when a Special Edition re-issue was in the works. It's been nearly six years since the original disc was release, and with this new 2-Disc release, I'm happy to announce that the wait was worth it.

Disc One includes a commentary track with Michael Mann, as well as three theatrical trailers for the film.

Disc Two has a grand total of 5 in-depth documentaries: "True Crime", which recalls the real-life cops and criminals scenario that was reflected in the film, "Crime Stories", which discusses the screenplay's 20-year history and how the movie was made. "Into the Fire: Filming in L.A." covers the production of the movie, "Pacino and De Niro: The Conversation" takes a look at the historic on-screen showdown, and "Return to the Scene of the Crime" revisits the L.A. shooting locations ten years after the movie was made. In addition, there's also 11 additional scenes.


In the realm of cinematic greatness, Michael Mann's Heat is a monumental achievement. With Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in two strong and unforgettable performances, and an all around epic feel to this action drama, this is one film that nobody deserves to miss out seeing, and it's even better to experience it again.

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