Heat (1995) Review

To be quite honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect going into Heat. Plenty of people list it as an all-time favorite and despite it being nearly 30 years old, I had no context beyond the fact that it was a heist movie. I think I expected some sort of arthouse classic where bank robberies would get turned into some crazy symbolic plotline but it was more straightforward than I envisioned. Yet despite all of the action in its chase sequences and suspenseful standoffs, there is something different about Heat that separates it from a traditional action or crime flick. Though it’s a slow burn to build, the dialogue and character arcs enable the whole thing to feel alive in a much different way than what you would expect. It’s the subtleties: character expressions, the purposeful lingering of shots, an inner turmoil that plagues and hitches onto our protagonists. The premise is simple: a professional crew of thieves catch the attention of the LAPD as their heists become more audacious and the movie examines the effects of that conflict seeping into their personal lives. At the center of this friction are Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) and Lieutenant Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) as they find themselves increasingly drawn towards each other with their philosophy. Though they have no qualms about killing one another, there is mutual respect for the ascetic devotion the other has in pursuing their goals.

There is a fluidity in Heat as it shifts from its action sequences to its dramatic dialogues. Though it takes a bit to get used to, it enhances the tension as you feel something constantly bubbling underneath the surface. This comes to a head in the famous coffee shop sequence where McCauley and Hanna reaffirm their tenets and come face-to-face for the first time. The over-the-shoulder shot used here places the focus on their reluctance to give in to the other. As they converse, they discover that they’re more alike than they originally thought. While Heat spends large portions of its runtime examining the other characters and relationships they are connected to, it’s here that we understand the lone-wolf tendencies of McCauley and Hanna. McCauley is easy: a guy interested in self-preservation above all else, with a simple rule “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.” But Hanna’s laserlike, almost obsessive focus on capturing McCauley reveals his romanticized vision of himself as well. It’s obvious that there’s growing distance in his relationships with his wife and stepdaughter but as he confides in McCauley, it’s clear that he prefers it this way. As they wind down their conversation to leave, there’s an inkling of hope in the “Maybe we’ll never see each other again.” Just as quickly though, it dissipates because deep down, this is what they live for.

Heat (1995) - Theatrical Cut or Altered Theatrical Cut? This or That ...

Shortly after, McCauley gathers up his crew for one last bank robbery with Hanna and the LAPD hot on their trail. As expected, they get ambushed, resulting in a chaotic shootout scene with explosive semiautomatic gunfire and an intense car chase. Despite the bodies hitting the floor left and right, McCauley and Hanna both make it out unscathed. Though they barely catch glimpses of one another throughout the entire scene, you can sense the gravity of each movement they make as they inch ever closer to their ideals. Crucially, this becomes the point of no return for Hanna as he watches his partner die in front of his eyes and he executes Cheritto, a member of McCauley’s crew. As death swallows everything around him, Hanna moves on without a moment’s hesitation in pursuit of McCauley. What makes these action scenes more compelling is how the characters have gradually won our empathy through the sections of exposition and dialogue. Even stooping so low as to use a child as a human shield, we don’t celebrate Cheritto’s death. Instead, it’s like we brace ourselves for the inevitable effects it will have on McCauley and the remaining crew.

Heat (1995) - Movie Reviews by Todd Wofford

Heat is a movie about two guys existing amongst a sea of death and void. From the moment Hanna’s eyes first landed on the heat signature of McCauley, they have been drawn to one another by virtue of their commitment. During Heat’s three hours, it’s pretty clear from the beginning that the film’s final arc will be exactly as you expect. In a stroke of luck and sheer will, McCauley makes it out of the predicament he’s found himself in. With a love interest and millions of dollars waiting for him, all he has to do is get on a plane and he’s home free. But that’s not what Heat is about and it’s certainly not what McCauley is about. For a moment of vengeance, he throws it all away. At first, it might seem like an antithesis to his philosophy. After all, for a guy who constantly talks about ditching everything at the drop of a hat, a personal vendetta doesn’t feel logical. Deep down, he knows it too as he begins to swerve the car to the hotel in search of Waingro. An expression of doubt clouds his face but his steely resolve inches him closer to fate all the same. There’s some satisfaction in watching Waingro helplessly pleading for his life but you can already feel that it will be short-lived. In the end, McCauley isn’t some brilliant criminal mastermind or some misunderstood antihero. He’s driven by a primal instinct and does what he does for the love of the game.

Heat | Film Review | Slant Magazine

As McCauley escapes and Hanna catches a glimpse of him, you’re left wondering if this was meant to be fate. Neither man can seem to escape their inevitable destiny as a chase ensues at the airport. The game of cat and mouse has reached its final act and while it’s clear that one of them will die, they move without hesitation. Heat balances itself on the edge of brutality and intimacy: a tale of two men who are intrinsically pulled toward one another in the wake of devastating violence. It’s not about whose ideals are right or wrong and who will live or die. As they stalk one another on the airport tarmac, you slowly see that this is the moment that the film has been building towards since they encountered one another for the first time. Throughout the movie, both McCauley and Hanna have been given multiple outs and ways to avoid the fatalism of the world that they’ve been placed in. But each time, they refuse because deep down, they welcome their destiny with open arms. Even as McCauley gets shot and dies in Hanna’s arms, Heat doesn’t give credit to Hanna’s ideals or his morality as a cop. Instead, it’s a moment of tranquillity in the vast field of violence the two have left behind them. A moment of understanding between the two men as they stared into the face of fate without fear of its inevitable consequences.


About the Author


I turned my incoherent ramblings on music, anime, and video games into an entire blog.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may also like these