Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Heat.”
The Movie: “Heat”
Starring: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer
Director: Michael Mann
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A group of professional bank robbers start to feel the heat from police when they unknowingly leave a clue at their latest heist, while both sides attempt to find balance between their personal and professional lives.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 86 percent
Brown: There’s two genre of films us Joes thrive on in this blog.
The first: Cheesy-ass ‘80s movies where R ratings were earned and well-meaning, oddly charismatic Belgians with fringe acting ability were seen as gods of their day. Need proof of that, look to last week’s review of “Bloodsport.”
The other: Dumb action flicks.
And in the rebirth of the JOE-DOWN, why not go the action flick route featuring two of the most highly regarded actors ever in Robert De Niro and Al Pacino?
Enter “Heat,” the first movie to feature these two powerhouses on screen together for the first time, brought together by the man who gave us “Miami Vice.”
Not to mention, this movie is hardly just De Niro and Pacino. This movie could be called “Michael Mann’s Night of Too Many Stars” and I’d be OK with it.
And somehow, fringe Gen-X’er Joe Froemming never saw this 1995 classic. What the hell, man?
Froemming: That is a mystery that still baffles me. It came out at the right time when I was sneaking into R-rated films by doing the old bait-and-switch of buying tickets to a PG-13 film and then going to the real movie.
Somehow, “Heat” just never flew into my radar. And having watched it, I’m kinda kicking myself for that because, in all honesty, this movie is a three-hour bonkers film that has no right to be as good as it is.
“Heat” also features everyone on Earth living at the time. I think if you squint real hard, you can see Brown and I in the background at some point.
Brown: See that 9-year-old at the bank? That was me!
Froemming: The list of folks in this movie will be touched upon as we go along, but the one that truly surprised me was Black Flag’s own Henry Rollins, not even bothering to cover up his old band’s logo tattooed on his neck (something I have noticed in almost everything he acts in).
OK Brown, why don’t you kick this off as I smash some schmuck’s head, who nearly derailed my heist, into a family restaurant’s table.
Brown: So yeah, this movie doesn’t ease you into it whatsoever.
We first see Neil McCauley (De Niro) waltzing through a hospital in medic gear, going to take an ambulance. And you know right away that De Niro’s character is evil. Why? Because he has the Evil Cartman goatee from one of the early seasons of “South Park.”
Elsewhere, we get a very ‘90s-ass bad guy named Waingro who is waiting for a pickup. He joins Cheritto (Tom Sizemore, who I forgot was a really good actor) and it turns out we are in the midst of a robbery.
Looking like the NHL All-Star goalies with assault rifles, the crew plows over an armored truck and holds three guards at gunpoint while they grab a bearer bond.
Froemming: I was half expecting this to happen at that point.
Brown: Oh, I’ll reference that scene from “Road Warrior” many, many times later.
Anyhow, this is a very, very professional crew. They know police response times. They have spikes out to take out any cop cars. The problem is, like any good crew of people like The Ghostbusters or The Gang from “Always Sunny,” Waingro is the wildcard.
Which means, these guards are going to get shot. And sure enough, because one looked at him funny, they all get a bullet to the head.
Froemming: The robbery has become a murder scene because WILDCARD BITCHES, YEEE HAAAAAWWW, but there is one slip here: We hear the name “Slick” before the rest of the guards are gunned down.
Now, there are three things in this movie I found ridiculous and I will touch on them as we go, but I want to state them here.
- Tracking down Cheritto via a very generic nickname he had in prison was like tracking down the Zodiac Killer because someone once referred to them as “buddy” in high school.
- The guns in this movie have infinite ammo, like they are in God Mode from “Doom 2.”
- How the (REDACTED) did Hanna know where Neil was going at the end of the film during the final chase. LA is a big place pal, and cocaine only gives you so much super powers.
Brown: Now that those ramblings are out of the way, back to the movie.
So, the heist wasn’t as clean cut as Neil had hoped. His crew of Chris (Kilmer) Cheritto and (REDACTED) Danny Trejo… named Trejo in this movie because reasons, are having some food at a diner with Waingro. In comes Neil, who causes a scene by smashing Waingro’s head into the (REDACTED) counter. They go outside and it escalates as Neil plans on putting a bullet through the man’s head and throwing him in the trunk of Trejo’s car. But, a pair of cop cars distract everyone and Waingro manages to escape with his life.
I’m sure this will in no way affect everyone here.
Here’s my question: After making a scene like that, how does no one in the diner see this assassination attempt happening outside this diner with huge-ass windows?
Froemming: Maybe not everyone snoops into other people’s (REDACTED) business, Brown.
Brown: Are you suggestion not a single gossip or snitch is at this diner having a grand slam or whatever people ate in the ‘90s?
Froemming: If you saw peak-1990s De Niro with an comically evil goatee smashing some guy’s head into the counter, then the wall, then drag his butt outside, you really going to say something? I know I would be too cowardly to.
Brown: Fair enough, especially when said evil goatee is surrounded by Kilmer’s insane ‘90s ponytail and Danny Trejo’s … Trejo-ness.
So from here, we’re introduced to our hero, Vincent Hanna (Pacino), who is your typical hard-boiled cop in a marriage on the downslope. He’s also the stepdad of Princess Amidala, which was kind of shocking. Again, this was “Michael Mann’s Night of Too Many Stars.”
Froemming: Seeing young Natalie Portman reminded me we should do “Léon: The Professional” at some point for the JOE-DOWN.
Brown: I’ve wanted to get weird and review “Black Swan.” Someday.
Now, I’d be critical of Pacino having to portray kind of a stereotypical character, but Al brings his special sauce to the role. What does that mean? Why, he makes you debate not if his character is on cocaine, but how much cocaine. Also, you ask yourself how Al’s eyes manage to stay in his skull when he raises his voice.
It leads to classic moments like this.
Never change, Al. Never change.
Froemming: You think he went method with his claims the character was on cocaine through the whole film? It is pretty convincing.
Brown: Yes, the character was on cocaine.
So this is the second time we’ve reviewed a Michael Mann movie, starting with “Manhunter.” There is one theme that these movies share: Michael Mann has delusions of grandeur that cops are millionaires. Because Hanna lives in an insane pad. We never see his wife work. So I’m going to assume Hanna is a dirty cop at least once upon a time.
Oh, if the force made him take a drug test, they’d find blow and tiger blood flowing through his veins.
Now Hanna is at the scene of the crime and because he is so jacked up, he figures out right away that the people responsible are no dummies. This isn’t a 7-11 robbery: These guys knew what they were doing and you sense he is kinda impressed by that. Multiple escape routes, perfect area for the crime and the fact they burnt their getaway van are all things that means he has an excuse to ignore his wife for a solid few weeks.
Brown: Meanwhile, after getting the bearer bond, Neil’s fence, Nate (played by a terrifying Jon Voight) suggests selling the bearer bond to the original owner Michael Cohen Roger Van Zant, a known money launderer in order to get even more money.
Froemming: The plan being since Van Zant has 100 percent insurance coverage, both parties would profit from this scenario. Van Zant gets the insurance money and the bonds back (for a price), while Neil and Voight playing The Dude from “Big Lebowski” make money as well.
Brown: I had two theories on why they wanted to reach out to Van Zant.
- Neil’s crew are huge fans of the E Street Band.
- It’s easy to rob Van Zant. Because he’s played by William Fichtner, who you may remember as the bank manager who gets robbed by Joker at the beginning of “The Dark Knight.” It’s run to rip off other mob dealers.
Van Zant and his bodyguard Henry Rollins (I never learned his character’s name. He was just Henry Rollins) are not OK with this, so during the pick-up, they try to ambush and kill Neil.
But, Chris is there to provide backup and that plan… it doesn’t go well. And we get the first of several shootouts in this movie because “Heat” (REDACTED) rules.
Froemming: Neil covers his bases. He sets up the meeting in Sudden Valley, the Bluth family’s model home neighborhood. Knowing Van Zant might pull something on him, he has Chris hidden away keeping an eye on things. And they do go bad, and there is a lot of shooting and whatnot.
But my favorite moment after this is when Neil calls Van Zant to tell him he is a dead man. He’s not interested in money now, he just wants this guy dead.
De Niro plays the best sociopaths.
Brown: The crew gets an idea to hit up a metals depository, but now Hanna is on their tail. Why? Because “Slick” is apparently such an uncommon nickname, apparently, that he shakes info out of Tone Loc (“Night of Too Many Stars!”) and figures out it was Cheritto. And, Cheritto and Chris have extensive criminal records while Neil is clean.
I’m with you in that it’s real, real dumb that the nickname thing is how this robbery empire ends up having its first loose thread to be tugged at by Hanna.
Froemming: You think this is how John Gotti was caught?
Brown: I feel like it was more complex than that.
Now, refresh my memory because I never caught this from the movie. How did the cops know the depository would be hit? And, how did Neil and co. figure out the cops were on to them?
Froemming: I think it was implied they were following Cheritto and that’s how they stumbled upon this hit. As to how Neil figured it, one of the cops made that banging noise and Neil sensed something was off, so to play it safe, he had them all just walk away. I’m guessing professionals like him have a sixth sense with that sort of thing.
Though the paranoia would fit Hanna more, since he’s probably on more blow than Scarface.
Brown: I was just about to ask if Hanna or Tony Montana scaled more of the cocaine mountain.
Froemming: I think Hanna is Tony Montana.
Anyway, this ticks Hanna off because these guys are just strolling out. Some of the cops want to arrest them, but Hanna is too coked up to listen to such nonsense. They’d just nab these guys for breaking-and-entering. They stole nothing. So, back to following these guys again.
But, as we see, Neil senses something is afoot, and plans accordingly.
Brown: So, a constant theme in this movie is Neil’s code, where essentially his method of living is he doesn’t have any commitment in his life that he can’t leave in 30 seconds if he feels the heat (roll credits). Meanwhile, his crew all have wives and obligations.
So naturally, Neil meets a woman, named Eady (or as I put in my notes: poor man’s Minnie Driver) and starts to develop a relationship. And like any good criminal or mafioso that De Niro has played over and over and over again, he lies about his livelihood. Because beachfront properties are all owned by men in the metals business.
Froemming: This relationship fell sorta flat to me, it just seemed like something we could actually see him ditch in 30 seconds. I didn’t need a love interest to prove that point to me, Neil’s lifestyle already had me sold.
Now, Hanna and his crew are watching our criminal buddies as they are at a refinery. This is really puzzling to the cops because there is no cash to heist anywhere nearby, and that’s when it hits Hanna: They just got spotted. Now Neil knows the cops are onto him and his Spider-Man senses earlier proved to be correct.
Also, how (REDACTED) awesome was it when Hanna realized what was going on as Neil is popping photos of them from up high?
Brown: Again, this movie has peak Pacino insanity. Remember how subtle he was as Michael Corleone? In the ‘90s, he was inching closer and closer to Nic Cage territory.
Is it just me or is this the serious version of “Face-Off?” It’s the same concept: Two big-name actors put together by a bonkers director.
So, after the refinery, we have Hanna pull over Neil. Only, there’s no arrest. The two get coffee and honestly, I still get chills watching Pacino and De Niro on screen together.
Froemming: Vito and Michael Corleone finally reunite!
It amazes me it took until 1995 to get these two guys to share the screen together. Also, Al Pacino somehow aged worse than Bob Dylan. He looks like he is 70 in this movie. From the Bale-Batman voice, I’m guessing those Camels took a toll on him.
And we also get to know a little more about Waingro. Other than being a hot-headed goon during a heist, turns out he is also a serial killer who bashes young women’s skulls in. Do the cops ever pick him up for this stuff? Nope, they just use him as bait later on.
Is the whole police force in this movie on the same amount of coke as Hanna?
Brown: They are very, very, VERY single-minded. This takes place in LA. There’s crime there all the time. And yet soooooo much of their resources go strictly on Neil and this group of robbers. How high were police budgets in the ‘90s? Thanks a lot, Bill Clinton.
Also, it needs to be said that Bubba from “Forrest Gump” and Baby-O from “Con-Air” is Hanna’s second-in-command.
Froemming: I would like to know if such an operation Hanna is running to get Neil (24-hour surveillance with bodies on the street following these guys, unlimited ammo, shoot-ups in public places causing all sorts of money damage and civilian casualties) would bankrupt the force.
Brown: Oh, the collateral damage is approaching Metropolis in “Man of Steel” levels during the failed bank robbery and shootout scene. But, that shootout is insane. It’s the one thing I remembered from seeing this movie as a teenager. You can’t tell me that whole thing wasn’t a sensory overload for your lizard brain like it was for me.
Froemming: It was 10 minutes of pure adrenaline for me. And after the shootout, I was (REDACTED) shocked to learn there was still 45-minutes left of the movie!
OK, so let’s get to the biggie shootout. Waingro is working with Van Zant to get back at Neil. Neil, Chris, Cheritto and Trejo have found a bank they want to rob. It is the BIG one. The one that Neil will retire on and move to New Zealand to live with Hobbits and whatnot. Everyone is in. But we have a few loose threads we just need to skim over.
- Chris is dating Ashley Judd. She thinks he should be making more money for himself and is depressingly a one-note character in this.
- We get a brief look into the life of
the Allstate Insurance guyDonald Breedan, a recent parolee who is stuck at a crappy job but Neil knows.
On the day of the robbery, Trejo can’t make it because he says there is heat all around him or whatever. So they need a driver. Enter Breedan, who jumps on the opportunity to rob a bank instead of cleaning toilets for a guy who sort of looks like one of the Lone Gunmen from “The X-Files.” And our gang is off the grid at the moment, having ditched their vehicles and Hanna losing his surveillance team because the brass probably suspects it is a waste of money and he is just coke-paranoid.
Brown: It was hard times for Pedro Cerrano. He went from being the slugger on the playoff-bound Cleveland Indians to being a line cook for a hardass in LA. All things considered, being a driver for a bank robbery would seem like an upgrade. He could buy tons of cigars for Jobbu.
So, the heist is on. They’re in and out rather quickly. But suddenly, an anonymous tip is called into the police so Hanna and co. are ready to turn downtown LA into Swiss cheese with the coolest shootout in movie history.
Damn, I love all that wanton destruction. I can only imagine how turned on Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer were watching this unfold when they saw it on VHS.
Froemming: Look, words cannot describe how awesome this is, so just watch the clip above and enjoy the magic!
Brown: So an insider moment: During the week, Froemming had texted me saying “Holy (REDACTED) this is a good movie.” I figured this was the point you reached when you sent that.
Froemming: Full disclosure: While we were writing this, I ordered the two-disc Blu-Ray special edition of this movie because I couldn’t resist and had some sweet, sweet gift card money to burn.
The robbery didn’t end well for Cheritto and Breedan, they both eat it here. Chris gets a head wound, looks like a graze because not even Kilmer’s fat head could stop a bullet straight on. And Neil and Chris escape via stealing a car in a grocery store parking lot.
Lots of people died here. But the brass seems to not care Hanna is blowing people away and shooting down Cheritto while the man is HOLDING A CHILD!
Also, I only saw De Niro reload his gun ONCE! Again, everyone is in God Mode from “Doom 2” here.
Brown: It was the ‘90s. Infinite ammo was chic. “Contra” games would suck if you had to reload.
And yeah, I feel like some bloated police chief would be scolding Hanna for putting so many civilians at risk for this.
Hanna would be all “Hoo-ah, we got two of the robbers!”
Chief: “THIRTY-SEVEN PEOPLE were hit by stray fire! Ten of them will never walk again! (facepalm) You’re off the case, go home. You’re suspended without pay. Turn in your gun and your badge. I’m giving the case to Bubba Blue.”
So thanks to this botched robbery, De Niro goes into his classic violent paranoia we’ve all seen since “Taxi Driver.” And right away, he goes for Trejo, who is suspected as being the cop’s mole.
Froemming: Poor Trejo and his wife have been hit by I think Waingro. His wife is dead, and he is in his last moments. He confesses Van Zant made him betray Neil. And Neil does seem to have some heart here, because he is just going to call the paramedics for his old pal. But Trejo wants to just die. So, Neil puts him out of his misery and heads to Gotham to find the bank teller who tried to shoot the Joker.
Brown: I need to see a tally of how many movies Danny Trejo has died in.
And because there is bloodlust in his heart,
Travis Bickle Neil finds where Van Zant lives and guns the man down in cold blood.
Brown: Before I forget, we need to mention a couple things. It’s a three-hour movie, folks. Things get lost in the shuffle.
- So Charlene, Chris’ main squeeze, is having some sort of affair with a man named Alan, who is played by Hank Azaria. Ashley Judd was hooking up with Moe from “The Simpsons!”
- The doctor who patches up Chris is played by Jeremy Piven. “NIGHT OF TOO MANY STARS!” Also, Jeremy Piven is a hairy man. Neal asks the doctor to give him his shirt so he has different clothes. I wrote down that it was awfully responsible for the doctor to wear a sweater under his dress shirt to stay warm during those harsh winter months.
Froemming: Also, Hanna’s wife is sleeping with this schmucky guy named Ralph. And Hanna says he can sleep with his wife and all that, but damnit Ralph, YOU ARE NOT GOING TO WATCH HIS TELEVISION!!!!
Brown: I realize it was the ‘90s, but man, Hanna lives in his post-modern house that no police salary could afford. But he has a (REDACTED) CRTV that was as big as the one I brought for my college dorm.
Froemming: Then after he and his soon-to-be ex-wife pretty much insult Ralph as they argue, Hanna drives around and boots the TV out of his car. YOU SEE THAT RALPH!!!??? NEVER AGAIN WILL YOU WATCH THAT PARTICULAR TELEVISION SET!!!!
Brown: That moment was pretty much Hanna becoming Walter from “The Big Lebowski” as he takes a crowbar to the Porsche. YOU SEE WHAT HAPPENS, RALPH?!
Froemming: SEE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU FIND A STRANGER IN THE ALPS??!!
Anyway, as a last-ditch chance of catching Neil, Hanna has the department find Waingro, the serial killer that they are in no way trying to apprehend apparently, and use him as bait.
And they do, but Hanna is so demoralized that he figures Neil has won. He’s long gone now. Hoo-Ha! He’s flown the coop folks.
Brown: Well, flying the coop was the plan. Until ego and bloodlust get in the way.
So Neil goes home and knows he has to leave to evade the heat. And while he’s home, Eady has put the dots together that Neil had something to do with this.
So your squeeze is a bank robber. Eady…
Neil then says that she can walk away if she doesn’t want to escape with him to New Zealand. Eady…
Then after she agrees to go with Neil, he decides to abandon the trip to the airport so he can “take care of something quick.” Eady…
THEN, when you see a bunch of cops and firefighters arriving at the hotel where your killer boyfriend is taking wayyy too long to return from as people are fleeing, Eady…
Folks, it got to the point where I was yelling at the TV. I get why the romance was in this movie for Neil/Eady because you had to put Neil’s abandonment plan in jeopardy. But man, Neil’s red flags are probably soaked in gasoline and fireworks and set ablaze and she STILL doesn’t walk away.
Froemming: As she is sitting in the car ignoring those red flags, Neil is sneaking into the hotel through where the workers get in. He steals a uniform and sort of just blends into everything. He then heads up to the floor where Waingro is, puts a trash can at the elevator door so it doesn’t shut and pulls a fire alarm, causing a distraction for the cops he rightly assumes is waiting for him.
While this is going on, Natalie Portman’s character attempts suicide in Hanna’s apartment. It would have been more tragic if she had more to do with the story I think, but this sucker is already three hours. It reunites Hanna with his estranged wife who really threw Ralph under the bus earlier by saying she was demeaning herself by sleeping with such a man.
See Ralph, nobody likes you. You jerk. You’re the Toby from “The Office” of this movie.
Brown: See, when we saw Natalie Portman in the tub, I thought it was some sort of retaliatory thing from Neil. Or, she was having some sort of relationship with Waingro and got attacked like the prostitute we saw earlier in the movie. Alas, it was a suicide attempt, which made sense since the character was troubled for much of the movie.
Alas, it’s not anything that salvages Hanna’s marriage because he’s married to the job. I’ll say it again: It’s a ho-hum obsessed cop role made great because it’s Pacino.
So Hanna rushes out of the hospital to the hotel where Waingro was holed up and where Neil came and executed the rat. As Neil is about to hop in his car and leave with Eady, he sees Hanna running through the crowd and decides to put an egg in his shoe and beat it.
I laughed during this climax. Why? Because De Niro runs weird.
Froemming: The third thing I thought was ridiculous: Hanna knowing which direction Neil went. Neil could have gone in any direction. He heads in the general direction of the airport, but Hanna has some weird mutant power that tells him where exactly Neil has weirdly run to. This is a big place, so I didn’t buy any of this.
Brown: You said Hanna had Spidey-Sense earlier regarding the refinery. It works here, too.
Froemming: Touche. Does that mean Peter Parker is a coke-head?
Brown: Trying to be a superhero while going to high school/college? Peter Parker either does coke or enough caffeine pills to make Jessie Spano think he has a problem.
So, the climax ends up in a field by LAX, where the two are chasing each other in the dark, save for the lights of the runway occasionally coming on.
With Hanna facing the runway and Neil hiding behind a structure, the lights come on and Neil tries to use the blinding light to his advantage. However, his shadow gives his position away and using his Spidey-Sense, Hanna shoots into the blinding light and wounds the criminal mastermind.
Froemming: How has Hanna not been fired for recklessness?
Anyway, Neil lies there, bloody as hell and we see these two men are kinda one and the same. Both are obsessed with this game, and both are good at what they do. As Neil says he told him he wasn’t going back to prison, Hanna holds his hand as the man dies, sort of a mutual respect, a kindred spirit sort of thing.
Remember, Hanna is on a lot of cocaine and should have been fired for the bank robbery shootout.
Brown: All this gunfire has me exhausted. Why don’t we get a tense cup of coffee and go to recommendations?
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: This is “Heat.” This movie (REDACTED) rules. Stop what you’re doing and watch it now.
Froemming: Yes. Look, this is almost a perfect movie. Everything fits together, the pacing is off the charts and the performances are incredible. How I had just seen it for the first time remains a mystery.