“There are no small parts, only small actors”.
This quote (from acting legend Konstantin Stanislavski, a name known to every actor alive) was always one of my favorites on the area of acting, and it is shown all over Michael Mann’s 1995 classic Heat.
Before we get to the two big names of the movie, consider the supporting characters who do just as equal work. Val Kilmer. Ashley Judd. Jon Voight (I even forgot he was in this film). Mykelti Williamson (Bubba from Forrest Gump). Tom Sizemore. Wes Studi. (A young) Natalie Portman. Ted (“Buffalo Bill”) Levine. Dennis Haysbert. Danny Trejo (!). William Fichtner (if you google him, you will know who he is). All of these actors have varying screen times in Heat, and are memorable in their own rights.
Perhaps it was the genius of the direction (and writing) of Michael Mann. Perhaps it was because they all did their own research into the parts (which must have helped, because, according to IMDB, in 2002, the US Marines were shown the scene of the big gun fight to show how to actually retreat in real life) . Or (my guess), because they were all in the presence of the big guns Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.
Anyone who loves movies such as I knows that actors don’t come much better than Pacino or De Niro. True, the two of them have not had much great success in the new millennium (Pacino was in Jack and Jill and De Niro in Dirty Grandpa, after all), but I am a loyal movie goer. I know these two have talent that other actors envy. Al Pacino is the only actor I know that you can still hear when the volume is muted. Robert De Niro (when not doing comedy), has a stare that pierces the soul.
In Heat, they play rivals on the crime and moral spectrum. Pacino is Vincent Hanna, a veteran cop who stumbles upon De Niro’s Neil McCauley, a veteran robber. McCauley and some of his henchmen (Kilmer, Sizemore, and Trejo) are near the end of their robbing days, but after one slip up, Hanna is on their trail (with help from characters played by Williamson and Studi).
Almost at the exact midpoint of the movie (give or take a few minutes), Hanna finally meets McCauley. After being pulled over, Hanna does not kill McCauley or even arrest him. He offers him to buy him a cup of coffee.
This, of course, leads to one of the most memorable scenes of the last few decades in film. At this point in time, Pacino and De Niro had never been seen on-screen (though they starred in The Godfather, Part Two, none of their scenes were together). Here we see two actors exchange in dialogue no more than ten minutes. We see each actor at the top of their game, and it is like watching a pay per view boxing match. I always find myself unsure who to root for. It is not a match up of Cop vs Robber, but Pacino vs De Niro.
Parents, the movie is rated R mainly for swearing and violence. There is one scene at the beginning where Hanna is with is wife Justine (Diane Venora) kissing in bed. It lasts about one minute, but there is no nudity. The violence and swearing are harsh, but nothing a High Schooler would not be able to handle.
The only thing that keeps Heat from a five-star rating is its pacing seems a bit fast to me. I did not have much time to catch up, and felt a bit confused by the story. Nevertheless, a few more viewings would probably push it to a five star. The movie is worth seeing alone just for the acting. In the dinner scene, there is an instant moment where we see both Pacino and De Niro giving each other a look of respect. I feel that is not the characters doing that, but the actors for each other.
Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2