Tuesday, December 07, 2004


forgive the quietude. literary business has taken precedence.

hmm. so the other night i finally completed a marathon 1.5GB download of michael mann's sixth (& probably most popular) film. it's a gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous widescreen DVD version of the 160-odd-minute man vs. man, good crim vs. good cop drama-action. when not struck again with wonder at the crispness & classiness of the night-time cinematography (as a 15 year-old i remember thinking 'good grief, this is visually a class above most US action films going around'), i couldn't help but think how bloody hard it is to find fault with this film. sure, the script (written by mann) is a bit too cute in parts (unsubtle in the way it stresses the similarities between pacino/de niro, overloaded with sub-characters & sub-plots, generic in the smooth rhetorical perfection it grants the two leads), the score is underdone (incidentally, mann would go on to work with different composers for his next films, 'ali', & 'the insider'), some of the symbology is cliched (pacino chasing his own shadow during the film's climax) & by golly it takes itself seriously (tho pacino's initially jarring comic-over-the-topness offsets the seriousness a bit). but these are, in spite of appearances, minor qualms. it's a rich, character-deep, crystalline action epic of a film.

in reality 'heat' deserves a thorough going-over by an expert in the epic & tragic genres. it'd be interesting to read up on mann's pre-filmic history (it's always nice to learn about what great directors did before coming to film; kubrick, for example, was a skilled photographer) to see if he had some kinda stage experience. 'heat' needs a dramatis personae - there are that many minor but compelling characters floating around, all played in turn by really interesting & really decent actors & actresses (val kilmer, great; tom sizemore, a beacon of sunglassed skill compared to his effort in 'saving private ryan'; ashley judd, impressive; de niro's wife, a regular in the mann 'troupe', honestly high-strung; amy breneman, wonderfully nice & wonderfully shot (her overflowing curls suggest an adventurousness that de niro loves); jon voight as an omnipresent, untouchable crime-organiser, absolutely ideal; a very young natalie portman is good; & the guy who plays 'waynegro' is masterfully evil, he exists like this weird devilish upsetter-of-equilibriums). where i waffled on a few months ago that 'the fugitive' had a decent minor cast, 'heat' blows it out of the water. & it's not like these minor-characters/big-name actors try to steal the show; they just do what they're told, cast as interesting people against whom we measure the two leads (&, as in some shakespeare, the 'minor cast' is split into two camps, half the characters loyal to de niro, half to pacino).

what of the two leads, then? as aforementioned, early on you get the feeling pacino is over-cooking things, playing along with an over-written part (too much sudden hollering for mine). by comparison de niro is mild-mannered & authoritative, believeably falling for breneman in some of the better scenes of the film (tho i always thought it disappointing that their 'first kiss' scene was played to a blue-screen backdrop of LA at night). thinking about it again, though, one senses pacino loosens up the film a little with his idiosyncracies. of course i'm no expert on acting, but i'm not sure mann would care - i think one of the real achievements of 'heat' is the way it draws attention to itself as a drama-action film, not an action-drama film. it wants us to analyse its characters, their relationships. upon release in 1995 mann made a lot of the fact the film featured two 'greats of the american screen together for the first time!' reports always mentioned how it took mann something like two takes to film their long coffee-house encounter (which in any case isn't really written that well; it stresses too overtly the way the two men are mirror-images of one another).

fundamentally he deserves full marks (& heat deserves to be watched several times, just so one can pick up on the little symbolic cinematographic flourishes scattered throughout) for sabotaging the action genre in the name of character-epic. the action scenes are memorable, if not idealistic (like swordfights really). but the drama is where the heart is, even if that heart beats bathed in the ultra-cool light of mann's dramatic-realist omniscience. with every kid he managed to sway away from all-out-action-film-devotion to something approaching character-appreciation, he did well.


Blogger Jenelle said...

Excuse my ignorance Foxy - I thought this was a commentary on the nighclub.


Great blog!

2:45 PM  
Blogger focy said...

haha! thanks for dropping by jen.

6:31 PM  

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