When Pacino Met De Niro

Heat finally brought Al Pacino and Robert De Niro together. The Godfather Part II doesn’t count since it was impossible for them to share screen time. Pacino and De Niro have been gangster royalty for decades, but it wasn’t until 1995 that they finally found the perfect project to star in. Heat was technically written by expert crime director Michael Mann as early as 1979. It was based on a real life crime story before being developed as a failed 1989 pilot turned TV movie titled L.A. Takedown. Although I (like most people) was drawn to the A-list cast, Heat is really one of the most influential crime dramas ever made. Shocking that it didn’t receive a single Oscar nomination. It’s a nearly 3 hour epic that delves into the everyday life of an L.A. police lieutenant and a career criminal. Heat is a game of cat and mouse between Pacino’s Lieutenant Vincent Hanna and De Niro’s Neil McCauley.

Pacino goes big with a loud performance of Hanna who dedicates his life to the heat. An improvised scene involving Hank Azaria is unexpectedly funny, but Hanna feels most human in a scene where he comforts a grieving mother. Hanna’s job has a negative affect on his marriage to Justine played by a despondent Diane Venora. Though she doesn’t appear much, a young Natalie Portman leaves an impression as Hanna’s troubled stepdaughter. McCauley is not so different with De Niro taking a more subtle approach to a lonely criminal. His only attachment is Amy Brenneman as the innocent Eady. McCauley’s crew gets just as much development as he does. Val Kilmer is Chris Shiherlis, who has a wife and child that he takes for granted. Ashley Judd brings unexpected layers to their relationship as his wife Charlene. Tom Sizemore is Michael Cheritto, the second most trusted member of their operation.

Jon Voight stays out of the action as McCauley’s fence, but William Fichtner ends up crossing him as a money laundering client. Danny Trejo and Dennis Haysbert are getaway drivers with surprising arcs, but it’s Kevin Gage as a psychotic serial killer who cuts the deepest. They aren’t given the same amount of attention as McCauley’s crew, but Hanna’s fellow officers include dedicated performances from Mykelti Williamson, Wes Studi, and Ted Levine. Heat was most influential for action scenes like an armored car robbery with hockey masks or an extended shootout after a bank heist. The final confrontation at an airport is great, but nothing beats Hanna and McCauley having a mutual discussion about their lives over coffee. Although they share less than 10 minutes of screen time, Heat goes to show just how alike a hero and villain can be if they only take time to talk things out.


Lieutenant Vincent Hanna and Neil McCauley meet for coffee

6 thoughts on “When Pacino Met De Niro

  1. I saw Heat in the cinema twice, back in ’95, and the diner scene is one of my exciting moments as a movie fan (I still remember watching it for the first time in the movie theatre, thinking to myself, “Wow, how great is this?”).
    It’s also one of those scenes in a movie where if I’m flicking channels, and I know it’s coming up soon, I’ll always wait around for 15 or 20 minutes just to watch it again.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The FX channel aired Heat a lot back when it was only available through certain subscriptions. Haven’t seen the whole movie yet, but what I have seen is good. Heat’s another one I wish they’d show more of on regular cable again like back in the day.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s