Robert De Niro vs. Al Pacino in ‘Heat’ on Criterion Channel

Robert De Niro is Neil McCauley, a heist mastermind and eternal loner who runs his crew with ruthless efficiency and earns unwavering loyalty. Al Pacino is Lt. Vincent Hanna, the relentless leader of a special crime unit on their trail after they pull an armored car heist. It’s the job that kicks off Heat (1995) and it is brilliantly executed, a model of precision and timing. That description serves both the crew in front of the camera (in the words of Vincent, “Their M.O…. is that they’re good!”) and the filmmaker behind it.

Heat is the ultimate Michael Mann portrait of crime professionals on both sides of the legal line. This is crime cinema as epic showdown between two teams that are practically mirror images, set in the sun-bright city of Los Angeles that turns into a lonely world of steel and asphalt in neon blue at night. Mann’s feel for urban landscapes is impressive, from the ribbons of on-ramps and elevated freeways that provide the tangled cover for the opening heist to the deserted industrial yard of a key meet-up to the traffic-snarled downtown street where chaos explodes in a desperate getaway.

Val Kilmer plays Chris Shiherlis Neil’s trusted right hand. Chris is something of a screw-up off the job, a reckless gambler who blows his share of the latest score before getting home to his wife (an exasperated Ashley Judd) and child, but on the job he’s unwavering. Along with Michael Cheritto (Tom Sizemore) they form a crack team, patient, exacting, disciplined, and always in synch. It’s the wild card of a last-minute addition to the crew, a hotheaded cowboy (Kevin Gage) who can’t follow orders, that puts Vincent and his team (Mykelti Williamson, Wes Studi, Ted Levine) on their trail. Vincent’s respect for their talent is matched only by his determination to bring them down.

Mann is a master at the mechanics of high-end heists and major crime investigations but the film lives in the characters of McCauley and Hanna, a pair of pros perfectly matched in the game of cops and robbers. He riffs on his previous crime thriller Thief as he pits them against one another in a chess match of a diner conversation. It’s the first time that De Niro and Pacino appeared together on screen together and Mann watches them probe for weakness without betraying a thing.

Jon Voight costars as Nate, who serves as something like an agent representing the gang in underworld dealings, Diane Venora and Amy Brenneman are the women neglected by the men dedicated to their jobs, and Dennis Haysbert, William Fichtner, Tom Noonan, and Danny Trejo co-star. Natalie Portman has a small but essential role as Hanna’s step-daughter in perhaps the most moving and heartbreaking subplot in the sprawling story.

Rated R

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Heat: Definitive Director’s Edition [Blu-ray]
Heat [4K UHD + Blu-ray]
Heat [DVD]
Heat: Two-Disc Special Edition [DVD]

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The special edition Blu-ray and DVD editions feature thoughtful and insightful commentary by filmmaker Michael Mann (his comments are as concerned with character psychology and the relationships between partners and foes as they are with the physical elements of filmmaking), an hour-long documentary, featurettes, and deleted scenes.

Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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