I liked Heat. I agree its a long–perhaps overlong–film, but aside from the bank heist shootout (not necessarially realistic, but very intense) and the unjustifiably hyped meeting between DeNiro and Pacino (good dialog, good acting, but Scene of the Century?) it was really more of a character piece about a thief and a cop who need each other in order to justify their dysfunctional lives. Thematically, it’s very similar to Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, which is one of the two or three best Westerns ever made. DeNiro’s performance was great; tightly controlled with a sense of desperation below the surface. (I love how his condo has no furniture; “When I get around to it,” he tells Kilmer.) Pacino is over the top, as is usual in his post-Godfather roles, but it’s appropriate (if occasionally hilarious) here; “She’s got a great ass,” he responds to an informant who rhetorically asks why he got involved with Judd’s character, “and you’ve got your head shoved all the way up it!”
There are a lot of nuances in the film, and a lot of development that occurs only in the beginning or end frames of a scene. For Mann, never one of the most intellectual of writer-directors, it is surprisingly subtle, harkening back to his first feature, Thief, (which was virtually remade by Brian DePalma as Carlito’s Way over a decade later.) Some of the characters were kind of nonentities; the driver, Carlos, barely has a speaking role; his replacement (the ex-con cook played by Dennis Haysbert) was very intense and deserved a lot more screentime. Val Kilmer, who’s always struck me as more of a character acter, didn’t really seem to make much of an impression, despite his pivotal role; anybody could have played his character. The women (Ashley Judd, Dianne Verona, Amy Brennamen, and a very young Natalie Portman) were all shorted but did well with the lines they had.
Anyway, I liked it, but then I’m predispositioned to like any film with DeNiro (the Meet The ____ and Analyze ____ films notwithstanding) and I thought he was great here, as he was in the vastly underrated Ronin.
I have to agree that Mann is overrated–like Ridley and Tony Scott, he’s (usually) strictly a visionary of style at the expense of characters and plot–but I found Collateral to be an implausible yawnfest dedicated to giving Tom Cruise as many closeups has he liked. (Despite this, Cruise ended up being a supporting player, with Jamie Foxx taking the limelight.) There were numerous irregularities and cheap dodges all the way through the film that progressively turned me off of it. (Come on, the Miles Davis fanatic jazz trumpeteer that doesn’t know a basic detail about Miles’ education? The last target that ends up being Max’s last fare?)
I haven’t been impressed by Mann’s previous recent work, either. (Well, I didn’t see Ali, but The Insider was massively overblown.) And he is the producer responsible for bringing us that abominable 'Eighties update of Starchki and Hutch, Miami Vice (which is his next film project…ugh, another film to skip without consideration.) But I thought Heat was very good, albeit, it could have been better still.
If you want to see a real piece of shiite, try finding L.A. Takedown, which is virtually the same script but filmed by Mann as a television movie. It’s absolutely dreadful.