Andy Burns On…Heat (1995)

Each week, one of Biff Bam Pop’s illustrious writers will delve into one of their favorite things. Perhaps it’s a movie or album they’ve carried with them for years. Maybe it’s something new that moved them and they think might move you too. Each week, a new subject, a new voice writing on… something they love.

Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.

Can a movie you’ve seen countless times still move you and thrill you?

If the movie is Michael Mann’s Heat, the answer is a definitive yes.

A sprawling Los Angeles cop drama, Heat was released back in the fall of 1995. It tells the tale of a crew of thieves, led by Robert DeNiro’s Neil McCauley, who are looking to take down one last, large score. The only thing standing in their way is the heat, led by Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), a driven cop who puts his job first at the expense of everyone around him.

I was 18 years old when Heat first hit theatres; I saw it opening night and was riveted then, much as I still am today when I watch it. Mann builds tension not just in one or two scenes, but consistently and constantly throughout Heat’s nearly three-hour running time. Whether it’s the much heralded coffee shop face to face between DeNiro’s McCauley and Pacino’s Hanna, or the balls to the wall shoot-out in the streets of Los Angeles, or in theoretically simple scenes of observation or conversation – they’re all full of anticipation and, yes, tension.

Honestly, I’m sitting here right now, having just finished watching the film for the umpteenth time, and I still feel the knot in my stomach, the tightness in my chest. And no, I don’t think I’m having a heart attack.

What do we look for in the movies we love? What draws us back, again and again, to the same films that we’ve memorized, line for line, shot for shot? Often times for me it’s the feel, the vibe.

The night sky in Heat draws me every time I watch it. It’s what a Los Angeles evening feels like to me when I’ve been there.

It’s the subtle look of disgust on Amy Brenneman’s face when McCluskey tries to kiss her character Edie once she realizes the type of man he is.

It’s the devastatingly innocent Natalie Portman, a minor character who still manages to leave a desperate impression on the viewer.

And yes, it’s even the classic coffee shop scene.

For some, Heat may run too long. Not for me. No, every minute of it is cinematic perfection.

It’s been twenty years since I first saw Heat in theatres. On September 15th, I’ll do so once again, as it screens for free at the TIFF Lightbox as part of the Toronto International Film Festival. The screening is free, but even more exciting than that (because this movie is always worth paying for), Michael Mann will be there himself to introduce the film and then take part in a Q & A following. The chance to hear one of our greatest directors discuss what I consider to be one of the best films of the past three decades? I’m in.

If you’re in Toronto and have never seen Heat, now’s the perfect time. If you have seen it, well, I’d guess you’re right there with me when it comes to loving it.

I say what I mean, and I do what I say.

There’s more information on the screening of Heat at the TIFF Lightbox website

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