PLEASE WATCH BEFORE READING. THANK YOU.
So what a better way to start a month of heists, cops, and robbers than with Heat? It's more a movie of themes than one of structured story, so it's difficult to give a plot synopsis. The best I can give is that Neil McCauly (Robert De Niro) is a professional criminal who is continually pulling big heists. Lt. Hanna (Al Pacino) is the cop hot on his trail. And there are over a dozen other characters, almost all with their own subplot, it seems. I know that doesn't give the story justice, but it's the best I got.
First, we have to look at this cast list. Besides this being the first time De Niro and Pacino were on screen together, we have a cast that also includes the following: Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Ashley Judd, Ted Levine, Dennis Haysbert, William Fichtner, Natalie Portman, Tom Noonan, Hank Azaria, Danny Trejo, Henry Rollins, Mykelti Williamson, Tone Loc (seriously), Jeremy Piven, and Xander Berkeley. Now that's a freakin hardcore cast right there.
My biggest complaint on the movie is that it's way too damn long. It's just shy of 3 hours. This is mostly thanks to subplots that really didn't need to be there. Sure, you could argue that they add a more human element to the story and the characters. However, there are so many of them that all you get is surface level stuff and aren't left with enough time to truly explore the intimacies of each one. Natalie Portman has daddy issues--we get about 3 scenes letting us in on it before a climactic moment near the end, but we're never given anything beyond the point of him never being there for her. A lot of these guys have marital or relationship issues, but outside of some arguments in the home, it's never explored within the psyche of each character. It's left at the scene and just waits until they're together again before they argue some more. It's almost like it's there just for the sake of being there, not to affect the characters in any personal way (the closest it gets is at the end when De Niro has to make a choice, but that's about it). And there are so many other little subplots that do nothing but take up time and don't add much. Don't even get me started on Dennis Haysbert's character, who only seems to be there for thematic purposes.
I suppose in this sense, the film tries to be grander than the box it puts itself in. It wants to be a size 14 shoe in a size 10 box--it almost fits, but it needs to shrink a few inches in order to do it. And I'm not saying it should remove them completely... just choose more carefully and expand on what you have left. Really, I feel the film is easily an hour too long (at the least). It also says a lot that while there were times I was distracted on my laptop, I could look up at the scene and know exactly what was going on without even hearing dialogue. Most times I'll get lost and have to rewind or something to catch what I missed. But I was easily able to follow this film even while not paying close attention (don't worry, I only did that for no more than 20 minutes of the whole film, and sporadically). You can take that how you want--as a sign of good film-making or a sign of being clearly formulaic.
But I personally don't find that really to the detriment of the film. Besides some slow pacing here and there, there are some fantastic scenes in between. The shootouts and robberies are fun and loud and adrenaline-filled. But the best scene, hands down, was (obviously) the diner scene. Sure it might not have been as long as you wanted it to be, but it portrayed some of the finest acting between De Niro and Pacino inside or outside of this film (definitely Pacino's best moment in this film, as I was otherwise trying not to laugh at his over-the-topness throughout the rest, particularly the first half of the film. But that's just Pacino).
The last thing I want to mention is the soundtrack. It was strangely quiet through the majority of the film. I noticed while watching how low the music was, even during an action scene where it was heavier music that would normally be cranked up to increase your adrenaline and get you going. To me, it was almost non-existent. That being said, it only increased my reaction to the music of the final scene of the film. Not to spoil anything, but as we're given our final shot, we hear this haunting music playing at an actual normal level, which leads us into the ending credits. It's a fantastic number, and it really elevates the mood of the closing.
So I'm glad I've finally seen Heat, and if you wanna talk about it (I'm not a loser!) and/or argue why I'm wrong about everything, feel free to comment below. It's a fine crime film with an outstanding cast. It just could have used some trimming. I'll probably revisit it someday, but probably not for a while. So until then, I'll just leave it by saying I enjoyed it.