Is It Just Me? … or is Michael Mann’s Heat not so hot?

One Total Film writer argues the case…

In our regular polarising-opinion series, Total Film contributor Neil Mitchell asks, ‘Is it just me? … or is Michael Mann’s Heat not so hot?

Michael Mann’s neo-noir ‘Los Angeles crime saga’ Heat (1995) has an 86 per cent ‘fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, an 8.3 average on IMDb and was given 3.5 out of four stars by the late Roger Ebert. I’m not aiming to be a contrarian… but are you kidding me?

Heat is Hollywood pomposity at its worst, bloated yet empty, often dumb and populated by uninteresting, two-dimensional characters. I’m convinced that some sort of misguided reverence is being paid to Mann and his two leading actors, Messrs. Pacino and De Niro; all three of whom have undoubtedly played pivotal roles in modern American cinema. Just not with Heat.

The plot and script are tired and well worn, the subjects undeserving of the mythic status Mann was so desperate to attribute to them. I’m sorry Heat lovers, but Pacino’s career cop Vincent Hanna (the one with the obligatory disastrous personal life) and De Niro’s über-professional, hardened criminal Neil McCauley (a man who falls in love on a first date) are just, well, dull. McCauley’s amateurish lapse of concentration in letting

Kevin Gage’s Waingro escape is one of a number of stupid incidents that hamper the movie. And am I really expected to buy that Hanna could throw Hugh (Henry Rollins) through a glass door? Rollins is made out of granite. No one’s throwing him anywhere.

Also, at the end, would it not have made more sense to dispatch one of the cops who actually knew what crim Chris (Val Kilmer) looked like to get a cast-iron identification? Losing a dreadful ponytail may be a wise fashion move but it doesn’t make you a master of disguise. So much for Hanna’s team being LA’s finest.

There’s no doubt that Heat has some major plus points: Mann’s direction is assured and controlled, the location work as impressive as you’d expect from a director fascinated by the effects of environments on their inhabitants, and the centerpiece shoot-out between cops and robbers is immaculately constructed. But the fact that I had to wait until the one-hour-40 mark for bullets to start flying is just another thing that irritates me about this ‘masterpiece’.

It’s all surface and no depth. The female characters are an afterthought, as many in Mann’s oeuvre are, the African-American ones mere tokenism and all of the relationships are wafer-thin. Surely a movie close to three hours in length could have given us more fully rounded secondary characters rather than the ciphers it lazily presents us with?

Finally, what of that first, long-awaited, face-to-face meeting of the acting giants of their generation? The fact that it’s understated is neat; the fact that Hanna talks about a recurring dream isn’t. My eyes glazed over as fast as they do when people in real life talk about their dreams. It was an opportunity wasted, deflating instead of gripping.

I’ve seen Heat numerous times and on each and every occasion it’s been cold, uninspired, daft and hugely overrated… or is it just me?

Do you agree with Neil and think that Heat is overrated? Or is it a modern crime masterpiece? Join the debate below…


    • Hadouken76

      Jun 9th 2013, 9:15

      "I’ve seen Heat numerous times and on each and every occasion it’s been cold, uninspired, daft and hugely overrated" Why the fuq did you keep watching it then ? Is it me or is it worth paying £4 for features that only end up online for free?

      Alert a moderator

    • vinnym1980

      Jun 9th 2013, 11:21

      Its just you, films dont 8.3 on imdb after 270 000 votes if there bad. Obviously a lot more people like it than dont.

      Alert a moderator

    • H3isenberg

      Jun 9th 2013, 17:27

      Yes it is just you. This is a bit rich from the man who gives After Earth 3 stars....

      Alert a moderator

    • YTWhitemanson

      Jun 9th 2013, 17:51

      movie is not a shockwave, but its ok, fills in its length, BUT imdb and rotten tomatoes high ratings doesnt mean that some movie is great, US critics often get fascinated with awful movies

      Alert a moderator

    • dojj singh

      Jun 9th 2013, 19:20

      it's one of those films that i've never understood, they've always gone on about this brilliant shoot out but having seen the film when it first came out, i honestly can't remember much about it other than them walking out with some big black bags and something about them having a cup of tea. if the film is supposed to be such a great movie, how come i don't remember any more? or do i need to watch it again?

      Alert a moderator

    • Rscott64

      Jun 9th 2013, 20:59

      You should try L.A. Takedown if heat is too cold - or in my opinion too long. Takedown is the TV movie Mann made first and the remade it a few years later as Heat. I'll always choose Takedown over Heat. It's more stylish, features a decent cover of L. A. Woman by Billy Idol and only takes about an hour-and-a-half to tell the same story. The only drawback is the wooden performance by the lead actor, appropriately name Scott Plank.

      Alert a moderator

    • alexsamburschi

      Jun 9th 2013, 23:08

      I like Heat. Well to be fair, I thought it was over-rated upon first viewing it, but on my second and third time I thought the film did have a lot of merit. Having said that, I think the article brings about some valid points - the movie can be argued to be over-rated. Is it a solid film? Yes. Is it one of the greatest cops and robbers flick out there? I think you can go both ways. A lot of what the article highlights though, are technicalities - yes they should have recognized Val Kilmer's character. No, Pacino can't throw Henry Rollins through a window. But if you apply the same scalpel of scrutiny to most any "great" film out there, you're bound to come up with a slew of similar critiques. What the article fails to highlight, is the duality of the main characters that the movie does a great job playing at. Hanna and McCauley are two parts of the same coin - and the way Mann's film presents that is what, for me, validates most of the high praise Heat has been getting from the critics. Is it a bit bloated? Certainly. Does it have plot holes and inconsistencies? Yes. Can you name me a film that doesn't falter when providing an answer to the two aforementioned questions? Though so.

      Alert a moderator

    • FBGSait

      Jun 9th 2013, 23:55

      Yeah dude it's YOU! - Gosh, this is a masterwork and a brilliant character study in criminology!!! --It boasts one of the best and most amazing screenplays ever written, the Direction is superfluous from the opening shot to the last climatic ending it engages you like nothing else out there you have seen done on that scale, the Cinematography by Dante Spinotti is just exquisite, Goldenthal's Score, Goldenberg and Hoenig's Editing... to me... it's a near perfect film. And not to mention that 12-min shootout of the LA takedown sequence is the best action ever captured on celluloid to-date. There are so many amazing things about this film!!!

      Alert a moderator

    • Heyman

      Jun 10th 2013, 20:09

      "But the fact that I had to wait until the one-hour-40 mark for bullets to start flying is just another thing that irritates me about this ‘masterpiece’" Your quote above is what absolutely disqualifies your opinion here. You are in it for the action - not the story, not the acting, not the pace or the tension, which are all brilliant. A Michael Bay movie is probably more your thing.

      Alert a moderator

    • Ali1748

      Jun 10th 2013, 23:54

      Is it me or are the features from this site going down the toilet ?

      Alert a moderator

    • RubberJoshy

      Jun 11th 2013, 11:29

      I have to agree with you on this one, if only for Al Pacino's shouty, over-acted performance...

      Alert a moderator

    • jamesmcmanus1

      Jun 12th 2013, 13:54

      The irony of criticising a film for a lack of depth because it didn't feature a gun-totting scene or bank robbery earlier. Crikey.

      Alert a moderator

    • Ichi1

      Jun 13th 2013, 18:37

      Aw....I had hoped Total Film was done with these troll articles. Guess not. Anyway, this one reads like it was written by a Michael Bay fan mad that there were not enough ' Heyman already pointed out.

      Alert a moderator

    • ThePrestige85

      Jun 14th 2013, 7:34

      Erm, it is certainly not overrated. Still one of Mann's best films imo, although Collateral is almost up there. It sounds like you simply did not take to the characters, which is fair enough, I suppose. But that doesn't make the film as a whole 'overrated'. It's wonderfully directed and the characters, with the exception of Waingro are really complex and non non typical. The ying yang theory between cops and robbers is explored rather well, imo.

      Alert a moderator

    • Racso16

      Jun 15th 2013, 0:57

      I completely agree with the article. I believe Heat to be the kind of film that people who don't have a good knowledge really enjoy, and then say that 'Heat is their favourite film'. The general consensus is that this film is iconic, mainly for its bank robbery scene. I do enjoy the bank robbery scene to an extent, and for excitement purposes. But that is where it stops. The rest of the film is Michael Mann trying to create a revolution in film-making, which ultimately ends up in two characters sharing some mediocre drivel to fill up a film which could get away with being half the length, and would I would still have the same opinion of it. I am not saying I couldn't sit through it, but I do not understand where this film falls. For this film to be revolutionary, there should be a more in depth plot and a refreshing cast. Why did Robert De Niro and Al Pacino need to be cast. Yes, they were fine, but I felt Tom Sizemore was just as good, and he is half the actor that De Niro is. This is just my opinion though.

      Alert a moderator

Most Popular