Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino played father and son respectively in GODFATHER PART II but they never actually appeared on camera together in the epic study of mob family values. Now at long last DeNiro and Pacino face each other down in HEAT. And it's definitely a kick to see what amounts to an acting duel between possibly the two best movie actors in the world.
DeNiro is always fascinating to watch in that he has mastered his craft so completely. Pacino has evolved from a hot-dogging street-savvy performer into a more subdued actor without losing any of his amazing on-screen magnetism and adding even more depth to his character portrayals. The only regret is that this Hollywood dream team brings so much high caliber talent and box office clout to a cops-and-robbers movie that, for all of its initial promise, disintegrates into a fairly routine shoot-em-up.
DeNiro and Pacino play two men on the opposite sides of the law. The point that director Michael Mann is making is that Vincent Hanna (Pacino), an explosive L.A.P.D. lieutenant of detectives, and Neil McCauley (DeNiro), a cool, technically brilliant professional criminal, have more in common than you might think.
They are both self-contained loners who are consumed with their work and careful to avoid any emotiional attachments. Hanna's third marriage shows visible cracks with the wonderful Diane Venora vividly conveying the love and frustration of the wife. Hanna does not bring his work home because keeping his job frustration to himself as he explains it "keeps me sharp on the edge where I need to be."
McCauley has taken the advice of a former prison mentor to heart by refusing to become attached to any woman he couldn't abandon in 30 seconds. But he finds himself seriously involved with a young graphics designer (played with touching candor by Amy Brenneman) who's been told he's a salesman.
McCauley and his crew pull off a heist with lethal efficiency. Hanna and his equally sharp crew of veteran police officers slowly close in on their prey. The dialogue is punchy and revealing. The acting is also uniformly excellent with Jon Voight a particular standout as the mystery man who arranges McCauley's "scores." The final hour revolves around a bank holdup that seems like a reckless, terribly ordinary crime for such a proficient group of high-tech crooks. The subsequent shoot-out seems endless and the movie loses some of its tension.
Still there's that priceless moment when Hanna persuades McCauley to join him for a
cup of coffee. There they are DeNiro and Pacino checking each other out across the same
table. They are such a potent combination that one just stares at them with appreciation as
their solemn faces betray more than a glimmer of mutual admiration.
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