Michael Mann's Classic Gets a 4K Upgrade: Heat Revisited
Last week, Rockie Juarez and Marcelo Pico went to the Alamo Drafthouse's screening of Michael Mann's new 4K scan of Heat. In honor of the screening and the newly released Blu-ray, Rockie and Marcelo have a sit down, one-on-one to discuss the mastery of the timeless Heat.
Rockie Juarez: Last time I saw Heat was about a decade ago. I saw it in theaters during its initial release because I was a huge, huge fan of Michael Mann's The Last of the Mohicans. I had to convince my parents because they saw the running time and freaked. I pitched it as De Niro vs Pacino and they were in. We all loved it back then, of course, and it's still one of Mann's finest. Been following him ever since. Again, The Last of the Mohicans kicked everything off for me in becoming a Mann fan, Heat solidified that fandom.
Marcelo Pico: I caught parts of Heat on cable for years before actually sitting down and watching the whole thing. It wasn't until I became a fan of Collateral and Miami Vice that I went back to fully embrace Heat. And yes, I'm a huge Mann fan, all the way through Blackhat. Heat is one of those movies that I appreciate more and more with each viewing. I haven't seen it in a few years, actually, so it was a joy to see it on the big screen by way of a new 4K remaster.
RJ: The 4K remaster is mind blowing, actually. It looks perfect! Thankfully, they also blasted the speakers, making every sound fill that entire room tenfold. I feel that '90s film stock benefits rather well from these restorations. I hope a '90s resurgence happens, man. Can you imagine a remaster and theatrical re-release of Face/Off?! Anyways, Heat is still a juggernaut. Long but not a frame is wasted. The whole thing matters.
MP: I've seen Heat a handful of times and this, for sure, is the best I've ever seen it. It looks like it came out yesterday. The grace of the cinematography by Dante Spinotti has been heightened, nearly 22 years later. We were lucky to see this transfer in a theater; hopefully people will be watching this on the best screens they have at home. I was in awe for most of the film. And it also helps that this is the shortest three hour movie I've maybe ever seen.
RJ: For real, man. The film zooms by because it has no filler. The story is about two driven people colliding because of their line of work and the damage they leave in their wake. It's cold and sad, yet so engaging despite that. Since the first viewing, De Niro won me over with his role. He plays Neil McCauley very straight, knows exactly who he is and how to survive the criminal life, but once real love is mixed in, his code is tested. He's the best part of the film to me. Not to take anything away from the rest of the cast, but he's the one true constant.
MP: For me, for as amazing as De Niro is, Pacino matches him at every turn. Their stories go hand in hand. It's been talked about to death, but the moment they meet in the diner, it's without a doubt one of cinema's best scenes. No hyperbole. Each time I see it I'm blown away by how Mann shoots it. Any other director would have framed them together for most of the scene, but Mann goes for over-the-shoulder shots, focusing on each individual performance. "There's a flipside to the coin..." That part always gets me. They only meet that one time before their final showdown, and that's all you need. These two are spiritually intertwined. That's the beauty that Mann understands.
RJ: It's mutual respect they have for one another that totally makes it. If it was lacking on either side from Pacino or De Niro, if they were weak characters I mean, the film would suffer. You'd feel the runtime, constantly wondering when the more fascinating character would return.
MP: Speaking of which, there are plenty of interesting characters surrounding Pacino and De Niro. Mann approaches the movie like an epic crime novel. There are subplots that you could cut out, but it would take away from the film's thesis. The Dennis Haysbert subplot has its own beginning, middle, and end — it sells the main theme, these crooks and criminals are addicted to the chase. "The action is the juice.", Tom Sizemore's character says.
RJ: You CAN'T cut anything. All the subplots matter. They make the film dense with content but never inaccessible. Kilmer being a gambling addict, Sizemore addicted to the rush you get from a heist, etc. Haysbert breaks your heart every time, man. Fresh out of prison, directionless but has love waiting for him on the outside. Hurts to see him go down that road with the heist crew. That subplot in particular could be cliché but it's handled extremely well. The women in this film suffer, unfortunately. But, not in their performances mind you, they suffer because of the men they choose to love. It's quite sad to watch unfold, but adds to the stew big time.
MP: The film has an otherworldly male cast — I love the smaller roles filled by character actor greats like Tom Noonan, Danny Trejo, and Ted Levine — but the female cast of characters hold their own. Diane Venora, playing Pacino’s third wife, lays it all out in a pivotal scene which proves Mann is a poet for the tragic, adrenaline-driven men that populate his world. “You don't live with me, you live among the remains of dead people….You search for signs of passing, for the scent of your prey, and then you hunt them down. That's the only thing you're committed to.” Ashley Judd and Natalie Portman affect the men in the movie in a profound way. They're not just props in a male-driven crime film. Also, Amy Brenneman says so much with no words in the film’s climax.
RJ: Amy breaks my heart, too! Love how chaotic the surroundings are in that scene with ambulances, firetrucks, and tons of people spilling out into the night, yet all we can focus on is that stare. It says a million things, so real and profound. There is something special to Heat in the way it handles both action and drama. Before the 4K screening, during the Q&A (which was stinky by the way) Mann said that two top dogs at WB flipped a coin to see who would have to tell him to cut 45 minutes from the film. They screened it as is and decided not to touch a damn thing. The world is a better place because of it. Heat managed to make Pacino vs De Niro a reality and most importantly did not squander that opportunity. A true classic, man.
MP: Absolutely, if it's not Mann's best, it's certainly vying for the top spot. With this theatrical re-release and with the new Blu-ray with the 4K scan out now, more people will be finally watching and revisiting this masterpiece, and with good cause because 22 years later, Heat stands the test of time.