Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Film Fave #6: Heat

Sure, it's high concept. Sure the dialogue can get a bit stilted, particularly between the sexes. And as with most Michael Mann films, the finale has zero emotional punch because it was set in stone in the first act, and heralded with trumpets throughout the rest. But Michael Mann directing Al Pacino and Robert De Niro is a match made in testosterone heaven, and I can watch this movie again and again because despite it all, Mann proves himself capable of genuine emotional depth.

Mann, never one to settle for a ten when he can take it to eleven, frames these two raging bulls with several football teams worth of nostril-flaring masculinity -- as if Pacino and De Niro weren't enough, we get secondary and character actors like Tom Sizemore, John Voight, Dennis Haysbert, Danny Trejo, Wes Studi and even tattooed motor-mouth Henry Rollins filling up the screen with their own brand of violent innuendo. And yes, Val Kilmer is in there, too, supplying a little adolescent surliness. Happily, he gets beat up pretty badly by film's end.

One of the film's pleasures is that just about everyone who comes on-screen gets theirs by film's end. It's a suburban morality play that's writ larger than Gidget: when Pacino finally connects with De Niro (and let's face it: their characters' names don't matter. This is the WWE, here: we paid admission to watch these two guys face off against each other) Pacino's cop asks De Niro's criminal, "So you never wanted a regular type life?" De Niro fires back, "What the fuck is that? Barbecues and ballgames?"

Yes, exactly. And when things finally explode, the first casualty to get blown to bits by machine-gun fire is a line of barbecues on display outside a grocery store. Boys, boys, boys -- you wanna play, you gonna pay. In fact, these men all do claim to want something akin to barbecues and ballgames. But their scenes with women play falsely: the couples laugh at shallow jokes, or they hug and sway together on the dance floor, or they even make love and whisper "Do you love me"-type lines, but it feels too deliberate. It's stagey, people are acting. It's only when the men hold up a bank that this feeling of artifice disappears. These boys enjoy the heat too much to give it up, so they get burned.

The strangest element in this morality play is Natalie Portman's character, an adolescent step-daughter to Pacino's cop. I think Portman's presence brings more emotional power than Mann quite knows how to handle. The other women in these guys' lives are all old enough to know better, so the viewer (and Mann) can keep them at emotional arms' length. But Portman's suicidal character sits on the other side of this morality play as the only true victim among all these firing guns. Her presence threatens to turn the morality play into a tragedy, and the way I see it, the film's emotional climax occurs when Pacino leaves the hospital vigil to finish his pursuit of De Niro.
I'm so glad she's there. Without her, the entire enterprise would be no more memorable than a particularly grim James Bond movie -- a heist gets pulled, shots are exchanged, people die. Heat could have been that sort of movie -- in fact Collateral was that sort of movie, and I certainly enjoyed that. But Heat is the more compelling and rewarding movie, thanks to its emotional core: a messed-up adolescent girl who flits in and out of all this flexing and posturing and shooting, serving as a spectral reminder of what's really being sacrificed in the spectacle, the noise and the heat.

Film Fave #5

9 comments:

DarkoV said...

WP,
Is it just me, but anytime I saw Pacino on the screen I had to pause the DVD so I could take another shower. By the end of the movie, the Axe body wash container is drained, my skin is raw, and Pacino is still oily and shudderingly oiff-putting. It's a movie worth seeing over again, but I always have to make sure there's a case of personal cleaning products in the basement. Just to be sure.

Whisky Prajer said...

Ha! I could well imagine such a visceral impulse. But even though Pacino inspires such queasiness in other roles he's taken, I rather like him in this. He shows just enough recognition that he has it in him to be a better person, but he can't quite see his way through to doing the right thing.

Whisky Prajer said...

But please - tell me you don't really use Axe body wash!!

DarkoV said...

No, no Axe for me. I thought I'd float that fat pitch of odor-killing masculinity up there, to see how far it would get swatted. Aside from its steep price (what's in that stuff, l'essence du Single Malt Scotch, what guy would use a cleaning prodcut with that name around that area where cringing is a natural reaction.

Any soap in a storm for me; I especially enjoy the softened soap crud that floats in the cesspool of the soap dish. Gets you clean and yet maintains that Eau du You that lets the neigborhood dog know all is right with the world.

DarkoV said...

Oh, and BTW, love that About Me pic you just put up. Jesus and the Juice. a fine and deadly combination.
One question due to pictorial curiosity.
When I enlarged the picture, it seemed that the rowers, and I'm assuming it's 3 of the Apostles, seem just a bit teed off. POssibly due to the fact that they're mad at themsleves for having been volunteered to take JC out and about on a little watery trip? Or, are they wondering, "Hey, this Guy walks on water. What the heck are we doing out here rowing? I know that since the fishes and loaves thing and, yeah, that water to wine gig, that I've put on some excess baggage. But this rowing in inclement conditions seems a bit extreme."

DarkoV said...

..Oh yeah. One more thing. What's with the Blended Whisky? I recall you only singing praises of the Single Malt. Hope Xenoverse doesn't catch that slippage.

Whisky Prajer said...

Hmm, yes. I do believe the three men in that tub are indeed teed-off. As for the blend, it's the unintended consequence of our pre-vacation condition: we're on a budget. Also, I'm having trouble finding a single malt with the appropriate spelling. Looks like I'll have to visit me one of them big city stores...

Trent Reimer said...

Sad to say I've not had the honour of viewing most of the ecclectic flick picks so far since my simple-minded, cowardly proclivities seldom allow me to range outside the Entertainment Tonight proscribed boundaries. So this is one film I can actually attest to and verily celebrate that perhaps I share, though only fractionally, of my sibling's impeccible taste.

Not to mention that at this point the concept of such criminal brilliance being wasted on a bank or casino heist shows a terrible lack of credibility if not a lack of imagination as well. (looking at you Ocean's 11+) In the real world such evil genious is invested in business and politics, and indeed to greater effect. So then, a film based in modern times with a brilliant bank robber, being basically on even footing with science fiction, needs to be a *compelling* fantasy or else it is a waste of time.

Pacino vs. De Niro did it for me as well.

Regarding Axe and its kissing cousin Tag, I think the commercials clearly demonstrate just how much our society has progressed beyond sexism.

Whisky Prajer said...

I think your comments re: criminal ambition are spot-on. I read an article some years back, written by a person who was standing in line at a NYC bank while it was being held up. He soiled his pants, but eventually got in touch with the guy with the gat - who was now in prison, a simple thug who'd held up banks to support a brainlessly expensive lifestyle. The one most reliable thing this guy and his crew did was watch the opening sequence of Heat, to stoke themselves up for the "job" ahead. Now, who's gonna make a movie about that?!