A labour of love for Mann that took over a decade and a TV-film incarnation to finally make it to the big screen, Heat would ultimately become overshadowed by the decision to cast Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in the leading roles. Both actors starred in The Godfather: Part II, but this was the first time they would go head-to-head on camera together in the same scene. Film fans went into a frenzy, the hype machine kicked into overdrive, and Heat was released to an overwhelmingly positive fan reception and cries that not only was this the definitive Michael Mann film, it was perhaps the greatest cops & robbers film of all time.
De Niro and Pacino play Neil McCauley and Vincent Hanna: Two men on opposite sides of the law who are the very best at what they do. Hanna is a crack lieutenant in Robbery/Homicide whose obsession with bringing down bad guys has destroyed three marriages and strained his current one to breaking point. McCauley is an ultra-professional thief who leads a small but loyal and highly trained crew through all manner of different heists, living by a simple coda: “Don't keep anything in your life you're not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.” McCauleys crew appear on Hanna’s radar when an armoured vehicle robbery leaves behind a trail of dead bodies, and it’s not long before McCauley feels that heat around the corner, but with a multi-million dollar bank job in the planning and a burgeoning relationship to an unassuming graphic designer playing on his heart, Neil is forced to reconsider his own disciplines and continue on a path that will lead to a direct confrontation with Hanna’s team.
Is Heat a perfect film? There’s a whole legion of film fans that would tell you it is, but I feel that the parallel storylines of the criminals leading up the main heist can be more than a little “soapy” and perhaps could have been excised to streamline the film down - but in terms of style and mood the film is a modern masterpiece. The Los Angeles locations are vast in scope and Dante Spinotti gets absolutely the best out of them, creating a very moody visual personality; while Elliot Goldenthal’s score evokes the memory of Manhunter but with a cooler 90s feel that hasn’t dated at all. Most importantly the performances of Pacino and De Niro completely live up to the epic hype and both actors extract a level of depth from the roles that isn’t really there in the script. Pacino is at is most mesmerizingly unpredictable, while De Niro is completely controlled and ice cool. Heat also has one of the most exciting and realistic shootouts committed to celluloid when McCauley’s crew have to fight their way to freedom after their bank heist goes wrong, a stunning reminder that Mann is one of the best action directors in the business when he’s not focussing on the themes of isolation and loneliness that dominate his ouvre.
The Disc: Apparently Heat come to Blu-ray with new content changes supervised by director Michael Mann, and I’ve got to admit that I’m simply not familiar enough with the film to easily spot what those changes are, because from what I’ve read they aren’t particularly significant: just small changes to dialogue here or a different shot there. Apparently the runtime is seven seconds longer, so unless you’re a diehard fan who has watched the film many times you’re probably not going to spot the changes either.
Heat never really received a transfer on DVD that set the fans alight and I suspect that the Blu-ray will also divide opinions heavily as Warner have brought Heat to the HD format with a satisfyingly naturalistic transfer that looks notably less sharp than your typical contemporary Blu-ray release. That’s not to say that Heat doesn’t look sharp, it does, it’s just that you’re not going to get a massive amount of fine detail that allows you to see all the pores in the actors faces during close ups. You’re also going to see mid and distance shots that are downright blurry, which seems to be down to the lenses used or the print itself. Warner have kept the image as close to their print as possible, grain is kept to a light layer with a very appealing texture that gets fuzzier in darker scenes and minute flecks/scratches/pops are pretty much omnipresent, which suggests no noise reduction is in play. Edge Enhancement is almost a non-presence throughout the film, but there is some faint ringing here and there, although one scene around 24minutes in when Hanna is arguing with Justine over his workaholic nature that features some heavy ringing.
Colours also look very naturalistic, Heat has a steely colour scheme that yields very neutral, slightly muted colours and very natural skin tones, both of which are more accurately reproduced here than in any previous home video release. Mann has a preference for low lighting so brightness and contrast generally look a little low and shadow detail slightly below the norm, but black levels are excellent – there’s one scene where the brightness level appears to jump up in an instance which feels like a print/shooting quirk rather than a failing of the Blu-ray transfer itself. The VC-1 compression was not an issue in any way during regular playback, but the encoding could be better as a more detailed perusal exhibited some noticeable blocking and banding. Overall, I think Warner have done an excellent job and delivered a transfer that should satisfy film purists.
The English DolbyTrueHD 5.1 track is impressive and only reveals the true age of the film with a couple of subtle niggles. Mann recorded the film au naturalé with no soundstages and seems to have produced a naturalistic sound where dialogue can be very quiet and often feels a touch too low in the mix. The audio is restrained, caressing the viewer rather than confronting them, but when the action sequences kick in and that live gunfire echoes through the streets of L.A the sound becomes much more aggressive and bass much more punchy. The bank heist gunfight in particular sounds awesome and will really give your sound system a work out. Directionality is excellent, the sound field is wide and very expressive and - low dialogue aside - the dynamics are also strong. The niggles? Bass can be a little hollow at times, giving the audio a slightly harsh feel, but by far the worst offender is audio tear, which occurs quite a lot whenever anyone raises their voice or a particularly loud event occurs. None of these niggles distract or detract from the film itself, they are simply reminders that Heat is almost 15years old now.
Warner have put together a pretty decent selection of Extra Features, Mann provides a very informative commentary that thoroughly dissects the film’s characters and acting processes of the main stars. The other major extra is a one-hour Making Of that is split up into three chapters that discusses most aspects of the film’s shoot, but also talks about former Chicago cop Chuck Adamson and his pursuit of bank robber Neil McCauley that formed the basis of Heat. 11 short deleted scenes, a featurette on the iconic cafe meet between Hanna and McCauley, and a retrospective look at the fantastic locations used in the film finish up the extra features.