Michael Mann’s masterpiece and one of the definitive films of the heist genre

Michael Mann has returned after many years of absence through the pilot episode of ‘Tokyo Vice’. And it’s great news not only because it’s bringing the best explorations of criminal underworlds back on screen, but because we are talking about one of the best filmmakers ever. A singular voice within popular action cinema, often met with misunderstanding or late appreciation, but tremendously influential for generations of filmmakers, including titans like Christopher Nolan.

This return of the master should serve as the perfect excuse to recover some of his works. In streaming we can find some of them, but the best thing is to go directly to his masterpiece. A pinnacle of the crime thriller and heist genre which, like most of Mann’s works, was not an immediate overwhelming success. But it was television, through incessant reruns, that established ‘Heat‘ What work of absolute worship. And on television we can enjoy it again through Netflix.

Cops and robbers

After years of research into both the worlds of cops and criminals, Mann wrote a script where these worlds collide in 1979. He was slow to get the project attention, originally destined for television in the form of a pilot for a series called ‘Corruption in Los Angeles‘. The pilot did not get the green light for the series, but the director was still obsessed with this idea, and turned it into a moviewhich came to an end by involving none other than Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.

This project meant the first time Pacino and De Niro got together, the two great movie stars of the seventies and eighties, were going to share the scene -both appeared in ‘The Godfather. Part II’, but both appeared as protagonists of different time lines-, and that was the great incentive in the marketing strategy. However, that great crossing takes a long time to arrive. Mann is in charge, over almost three hours, of get into the lives of both characterspoliceman (Pacino) and thief (De Niro).

There you can see the television past of this project, because around both of them different subplots and characters are emerging, where we see recognizable faces like Val Kilmer, Ashley Judd, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore or a very young Natalie Portman. This may sound like unnecessary inflation, but it helps cement the inner world of the protagoniststheir perceptions about the environments they must travel through and the conflicts they will have to deal with in the film.

‘Heat’: burning heat around the corner

At the heart of ‘Heat’ lies the same existential dilemma often explored in Mann’s works, here brought to its fullest. Both De Niro and Pacino’s characters are excellent in their respective fields, impeccable professionals with unique methods but that, carried out well, are infallible. That collides with a convulsive life, where their personal relationships weaken for not having the necessary attention. Mann’s protagonist (double in this case) is faced with the question of whether he will maintain his particular professional excellence at the cost of completely breaking down emotionally.

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Hence, the duel between Pacino and De Niro is exciting not only because of the obvious game of cat and mouse, or because both are involved in brilliant action sequences like the excellent shooting at the door of a bank that in itself is worth the entire film. The thief curtly expresses his philosophy: “Do not admit anything in your life that you cannot leave in 30 seconds if the mob is on your heels.” The trips that both travel are parallel, at times being the two sides of the same coin -evidenced in the iconic meeting scene in the cafeteria- but the moral differences are what end up making the difference.

That meticulous construction, the rigor well applied, the impressive planning and technique when shooting the action -it feels so real that you think you are also in danger- or the brilliant direction of the actors are more than enough reasons to talk about the total oeuvre of michael mann. But she doesn’t stop there. ‘Heat’ is a jewel of heist cinema that has endured over the years and continues to influence many of the movies we watch today, with many artists citing it shamelessly. You won’t see ‘The Dark Knight’ in the same way after seeing this movie.