De Niro plays McCauley, the head of a paramilitary-style robbery crew, with Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore as his backup and Pacino as Hanna, the cop tracking them down. As the police try to keep up with the crew's intricate schemes, a classic game of hunter and hunted turns back on itself, with a double-crossing sideman and a victim out for revenge thrown in to shake up the chase.
Heat was a massive worldwide hit, with amazing action sequences that combine cinematic thrills with a realistic attention to detail. The 10-minute gun battle after a bank robbery gone wrong is a classic of action choreography, and the locations -- Koreatown minimalls, afterhours clubs, dock yards, and freeway underpasses -- show the real Los Angeles instead of the usual fantasy version.
But Mann also tells a story about the people, intercutting action with domestic scenes: McCauley trying to balance a girlfriend with his code of detachment, Hanna agonizing over his failing marriage, Kilmer's Shiherlis struggling with gambling problems, and a side story of a newly released ex-con's degrading job as a short-order cook. Because the characters have real lives with quiet moments and emotional depth, the bursts of violence are all the more effective.
One scene in particular shows the stars at their best: when De Niro and Pacino face off over a cup of coffee. The two talking about the wreckage of their lives and their respective obsessions -- with nary a machine gun in sight -- is an intense counterpoint to the finale, a mano a mano gunfight in the fields around LAX.
De Niro and Pacino are backed by a powerhouse ensemble cast, with Kilmer, Sizemore, Ashley Judd, and Jon Voight, and for the most part even the small parts are solid performances, from actors like Natalie Portman, Hank Azaria, and Jeremy Piven.
Heat certainly has flaws. At almost three hours it runs long, and Pacino occasionally slips over into cornball PacinoTM melodramatics. Two important roles (McCauley's and Hanna's respective mates) are poorly acted, and there are some plot holes (a 10-minute shootout in the streets of downtown L.A. and not one helicopter shows up to follow the getaway car?). But the tense action and surprisingly effective glimpses of the players' lives make it an unexpected, entertaining movie.
The long-anticipated Blu-ray release looks and sounds great, with 1080p HD resolution and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio (the infamous shootout is deafening). But while the extras are generous, they're unchanged from the 2005 two-DVD Special Edition. Along with an audio commentary by Michael Mann are five featurette making-of documentaries, three theatrical trailers, and 11 deleted scenes (a total of nine and a half minutes of footage that for the most part was rightfully cut). The "new content changes" from Mann touted on the Blu-ray box cover are hard to spot, and they don't change the running time.
Heat is a fun ride, and the Blu-ray version will look and sound fantastic on a souped-up home theater system. But if you have the DVD Special Edition, it's hard to justify buying the same thing twice.
Heat [Blu-ray] is available November 10 from Warner Brothers.