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Watch Heat not Takers

Updated on May 26, 2013

Michael Mann's Heat


"I say what I mean, I mean what I say"

Michael Mann's Heat boasts an impressive cast and excellent production values for a serious heist film, the kind of movie that in the last 20 years or so has usually been relegated to the glossy B-movie category with stiff acting and a lot of cheap thrills. The all-star cast delivers hard-hitting dialogue and brings us some memorable characters.

Watching this film, I could not help but think back to some of my favorite crime films from the 1950s and 60s, particularly the French heist films Rififi and The Second Wind (both films that you should see at some point). Like these earlier films, Heat cuts to the souls of its characters. Rather than take it for granted that some people break the law while others enforce it, Heat probes its characters, examining their motives which are often complex. For the McCauley (Robert De Niro) and his crew, stealing is about the thrill of the job, not the "score." For Lt. Hanna (Al Pacino), keeping law and order is about the same. Both men love their work, perhaps Hanna a little bit more than McCauley who De Niro presents as world-weary and lonely. Both men are dedicated to their jobs and their personal lives suffer as a result. Hanna is losing his third wife while McCauley has apparently never been in a relationship he could not walk out of if he heard the eponymous "heat" coming around the corner.

The similarities of police men and robbers are highlighted by the composition of the crews and the acting of the leads. Physically, both crews look so similar that it is hard to tell them apart in long shots. The similarities are also exploited in the acting to blur the line between lawman and lawbreaker. De Niro, the robber, plays a clean-cut businessman whose job just happens to be taking other people's money. He is a hard man who follows his own personal code, evident in an early scene when he and his crew try to execute a renegade member for forcing them to kill security guards needlessly. On the other hand, Pacino renders Hanna a larger-than-life figure who is wildly unpredictable. It is a testament to the success of this effect that I recently saw a quote from Pacino's character on Heat's facebook page and posted it, feeling a little guilty for glorifying a robber, only to remember, of course, that Pacino played the policeman!



"We're Takers, That's What we Do"

Takers, although similar to Heat in many ways (including the juxtaposition of law enforcers and law breakers as protagonists) fails as a film. The opening sequence is dominated by what the late Roger Ebert called "nausea cam" and tries too hard to make a dramatic opening. This, however, is not the film's most damaging flaw. What truly makes this film pointless is the fact that it takes more interest in glamorizing the world of criminals (even the police seem amoral, acting just as reckless and brash as the men they seek to bring to justice). The film seems to care little about characters and more about flashy action sequences as other reviewers have noted.

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"Watch This not That"

This is the first of what I call my "Watch 'this' not 'that'" series of reviews. These reviews are intended to pick the better of two similar films so that viewers who are seeking a particular type of film will be satisfied. This is not to say that the film I recommend viewers avoid is bad. I simply found that it was a less satisfying experience and, as I hope is evident in my reviews, was lacking something which the first film provided.

Buy or Rent Heat


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