After giving writer/director Michael Mann's 'Heat' a spin recently for this Blu-ray review, I've come to the conclusion that if it isn't the greatest heist genre flick ever made, it easily ranks as one of the most entertaining action movies to come out of the nineties. Not only is the film infused with razor-sharp writing, a stellar cast, and stylish direction, to this very day it still delivers what is widely regarded as the best gunfight in cinematic history. This sequence really is a true marvel of modern filmmaking.
Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) is a professional thief. He runs a very tight crew, which always includes his loyal best friend Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer), and methodically plans out every job with tactical precision. Maintaining a cool head is the key to McCauley's success, and if he even senses a rise in temperature by a mere half a degree, he'll do whatever is necessary to avoid getting burnt. But as McCauley and his gang plunder the City of Angels and work their way towards the score of a lifetime, their trail is picked up by a skilled detective, Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino). Now with the police force hot on his trail, McCauley finds himself thrust into a citywide chess match with Hanna -- and neither man plans to be outwitted by his worthy opponent.
The casting for 'Heat' is simply phenomenal. This was the first film to finally unite Al Pacino and Robert De Niro on screen together (they were in different timelines in 'The Godfather: Part II'), and having them as opposing dominant forces is pure genius. Pacino is the more animated of the two personalities, strutting around in his typical cocky persona with the occasional frantic outburst. Sure he milks it to the extreme, but in all fairness Hanna was originally meant to have a cocaine habit and that definitely seeps through on camera. De Niro on the other hand is just as fun to watch. McCauley works hard at trying to appear calm, cool, and collected, but the brunt of it is it's really all a façade. This guy is a sociopath at the core and he doesn't always mask it as well as he thinks. Both men clearly have issues, and the actors' riveting performances complement each other brilliantly. Then there's the unprecedented list of colorful supporting roles: Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Ashley Judd, Natalie Portman, Ted Levine, Dennis Haysbert, Amy Brenneman, Wes Studi, Hank Azaria, Xander Berkeley, and Danny Trejo. Top that off with cameos by Henry Rollins, Tõn Lõc, and Jeremy Piven and pretty much every speaking part is a familiar face.
Clocking in at nearly three hours, it's impressive how 'Heat' flows along at such a smooth and brisk pace. On the visual end, Mann makes excellent use of interesting locales, and he treats each scene with the respect it deserves. It also helps that the more leisurely interludes run on snappy dialogue that never feels forced at all. A number of lines and conversations were either ad libbed or unrehearsed, too. This can often derail a film, but in this case it gives the movie that extra bit of magic as it ramps up to the intense and thrilling action sequences.
Of course, this segues us into what has made 'Heat' legendary -- the bank heist (inspiring Christopher Nolan's prologue in 'The Dark Knight') and the mother of all shootouts. Beethoven has his symphonies, Hendrix has his guitar riffs, and Michael Mann has his opus of three guys with full auto assault rifles laying waste to half the LAPD and an entire city block. I could watch this thing over and over, it's just too bad Warner doesn't have Universal's "My Scenes" -- as this would be the one time I'd actually use the feature.
In the fourteen years since it was released, it's easy to see why what is arguably Michael Mann's best film has risen to become the ultimate fan favorite of crime dramas. The story is compelling, the characters are engaging, and the blazing action cooks up a storm -- and then some. And here I thought it was called 'Heat' because it always leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy inside.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
I thought 'Heat' would've been a surefire candidate to receive Warner's digibook treatment being such an epic crime drama, however the BD-50 Blu-ray Disc comes housed inside a standard blue keepcase. The disc goes right into the movie immediately like most WB titles without any forced previews or menus. The U.S. version of this Blu-ray release is also reported to be region free and therefore should function properly in all PlayStation 3 and standalone players.
The Blu-ray of 'Heat' features a newly-restored transfer supervised by Michael Mann, and the 1080p/VC-1 (2.40:1) encode delivers a faithful and respectable presentation.
Mann went with a slightly cool and subdued color palette, which may seem like an odd choice for a film called 'Heat,' but in the end it suits the movie just fine. The rich, dark black levels are always impressive and whites are also bright and clean. The picture is generally sharp and detailing is pretty strong. There's a thin consistent grain field throughout without any unsightly spikes. Textures and delineation in facial features and suits are well defined. Dimensionality is good in exterior scenes, and while there's softness to certain images, particularly the overhead night shots of the cityscape, it shouldn't detract from the experience. Sections of a few scenes have a hint of blurring as well, but I believe that's more to do with the style of the cinematography. Keen eyes will catch some minimal edge enhancement in places, but the picture is free of other common annoyances like artifacting, digital noise, and macroblocking. There also seems to be very little DNR application if any. Nitpicks aside, most should be pleased with this upgrade.
The first thing worth noting about the Blu-ray's lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is that it seems to be much quieter compared to other discs. I usually set my Onkyo around a certain number most of the time, but with 'Heat' I had to pump up the volume considerably higher, about ten more notches than norm. Not a big deal, but I'm sure it's a detail some consumers would still like to know.
If you're hoping for a very immersive experience, well then 'Heat' delivers in spades. Dynamics and spatial movement are amazingly energetic here. Seamless pans are everywhere--the train during the opening credits, the helicopter flybys, the airplanes landing and taking off at the airport--and adding extra punch to these scenes are extremely powerful bass frequencies. The rears are highly active with a variety of effects, from subtle ambience in the restaurants and hotel lobby, to of course the heavy gunfire. The "ting" of shell casings hitting the ground is very distinguishable and bullets whiz by and burrow into the sides of vehicles with clarity. The multiple windshields shattering simultaneously during the armored car assault will likely make some OCD viewers vacuum their floor once the movie is finished. Tying it all together is Elliot Goldenthal's original score that pleasingly weaves its way through the sound field.
The only issue preventing me from giving the soundtrack a higher score is that I found the dialogue to be awfully quiet in places. This is a movie with plenty of soft speech and whispers, and even if the volume is cranked then the really loud scenes can be almost deafening. If the vocals had only been turned up just a bit, this mix would be outstanding.
The Blu-ray includes additional Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in Spanish, French, and German, as well as a Portuguese Dolby Digital 2.0 track. There's also a long list of subtitle options: English SDH, French, German SDH, Spanish, Netherlands, Castellano, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Swedish, and Norwegian.
All of the supplements on this Blu-ray are ported over from the previously released Two-Disc Special Edition DVD. While streamlining the release to one disc is definitely a plus, it still would have been nice to see some new content here. Everything is also presented in standard-definition.
'Heat' is a nineties classic and one of those films that just seem to get better with age. Warner's Blu-ray version of Michael Mann's masterpiece is a solid package, offering all of the supplements from the DVDs as well as new and improved visuals and audio. The price is also pretty nice too, so if it isn't already sitting on your shelf -- what are you waiting for?