It was only released six years ago, but Michael Mann's cat-and-mouse heist thriller Heat has since became a huge cult favourite despite mixed critical reviews, essentially because it was the first movie in which Robert De Niro and Al Pacino share screen time (they are never in the same scene in The Godfather Part II). Originally a pilot for a rejected TV series named L.A. Takedown which was Mann's attempt to produce another Miami Vice, the director rewrote it for a more cinematic release.
Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) is an expert professional criminal and a deliberate loner. McCauley prides himself on the principle that there's nothing in his life that he can't walk away from in 'thirty seconds flat'. In the other extreme, Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) is an LAPD detective in the robbery and homicide division and on his third failing marriage. His wife Justine (Diane Venora) is seeing another man, and their daughter Lauren (Natalie Portman) is having trouble with her teenage years. Hanna is obsessive in his work and is highly efficient, with chaos reigning when he regularly brings the crimes he encounters home with him, be it in his moods or his dreams. McCauley and his expert criminal team pull off a robbery of an armoured bearer bonds van and Hanna is assigned to the case. What transpires is the typical 'cops-and-robbers' chase, with Hanna one step behind the extremely elusive McCauley. Hanna's instinctive detective work results in an actual meeting with McCauley in a coffee-shop, in which the two share their mutual respect for one another yet admit there can only be one loser. McCauley however, is starting to break his own principles, with the entrance of the endearing Eady (Amy Brenneman) into his life.
For such a prestigious favourite amongst action lovers, it almost feels sacrilegious to criticise the film. Heat is very long for an action-thriller movie, in fact there is strong argument that its one hundred and seventy minute running time needs dramatic shortening to a two hour timeslot. It's almost as if Mann wants the film to be seen as some sort of crime epic, and justifies this by padding out nearly all of the scenes longer than necessary. There's no argument the film has the potential to be an epic, it's just that some of the facets involved in qualifying for this status aren't as good as some of the others. For example, whereas De Niro is his usual good acting self as McCauley, Pacino is way too hammy for Hanna, and thinks that by being laid back whilst simultaneously over-delivering his lines than this is going to be considered effective. Whilst a strong theme in Heat is the principle of it being a man's world despite man's need for the love of women, you have to ask yourself why the women of the film are given only minor emphasis. The only scenes that do work on this basis, is De Niro and Brenneman's, which are gripping to watch because of the mutual attraction they obviously share. When Pacino is with Venora, it's hard to care, but this may be because Pacino's Hanna himself doesn't really care in the scale of things. What about Jon Voight as Nate? If Michael Mann really wants an Eddie Bunker character in his film why not just cast the man himself?
Another problem with Heat is a problem that could be associated with almost all of Mann's films, and this is the abundance of different characters thrown into the film throughout the duration that are given less than satisfactory establishment. Also, at least one in five sequences suffer from badly mumbled dialogue, and this usually occurs during important plot points.
The film does contain many plus points however. The action sequences are first-rate, and are given a three-hundred-and-sixty degree sense of movement and location, as if the viewer is pitted directly amongst proceedings. The sound mix is phenomenal, and every bullet fired packs a tremendous punch. Despite some of the flawed performances, the film does contain a worthy plot notion - the idea that cops need robbers and vice versa, and even though they are enemies and pitted against each other, there is still elements of mutual respect. With less self-indulgence on the part of the director, and tighter pacing, Heat could have been an absolute classic as opposed to a cult favourite. Even so, any film that pairs De Niro and Pacino in the same scene renders its status a 'must-see', and that particular coffee-shop sequence earns the film points on its own.
This Korean R0 release is odd solely in terms of picture. The 5.1 surround version is properly displayed in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, with excellent picture quality and fine colour saturation. The DTS version of Heat matches these qualities, but is oddly zoomed in to 1.85:1. This isn't the case of being more unmatted, but more to do with the fact that the film has had its sides chopped off! There appears to be no valid reason for this, and its rather annoying if you pride yourself on owning films in their best available sound formats and in the best available ratios.
Above: 2.35:1 5.1 Surround Version
Above: 1.85:1 DTS Version
Sound is where the DVD really scores. The 5.1 mix ferociously deposits the viewer into the centre of proceedings with excellent spatial sound effects and impressive utilisation of each channel. The sound is crystal clear and highly audible (despite some bad acting where dialogue is mumbled) and the film's music score gives atmospheric low rumblings to add to the occasion. The DTS mix contains very little difference to the 5.1 mix, but certainly improves matters in the heavier action sequences where you will find yourself actually ducking for cover in some of the tenser moments, due to more bass emphasis and greater definition all round. For those that love DTS tracks, Heat definitely delivers the goods. For those that do not own a DTS set-up, the 5.1 mix is certainly enough to satisfy.
Menu: The menu is mostly in English despite being a Korean release, although the bulk of the production notes are in Korean. The menu is animated and contains some clips and artwork from the film.
Packaging: Packaging is mostly in English too, with a nice slick cardboard fold out casing being housed in another slick cardboard dust cover. The additional booklet contained within is in Korean, although the chapter listings featured on one of the fold-out sides is in English.
Trailer: Three trailers are provided, each aiming for a different market. Featured in English with no subtitles.
Cast/Crew Biographies: The biographies for the cast and crew are in Korean, although the filmographies are in English for some reason.
A gripping and fantastic cat-and-mouse thriller or a slow, indulgent failure depending on how you look at it, Heat certainly has many fans who will no doubt already own the disc. For those desperate for DTS sound the mix delivers everything you want. Be warned that the DTS version contains an incorrect ratio, although there are many out there who would not be bothered by this, and if you fit this description then the Korean release is the one for you.