Friday, June 12, 2009


Here's something curious. At the mail order DVD thingy which MaR relies on for both movies and random, they have a list you can use if you want to prioritize what movies you want. I generally don't use it unless I'm sick of seeing something in the big list to maximize randomosity, or it's a movie I desperately want to see. So, anyway, a couple weeks ago I was sent a full screen edition of a movie I know happens to have delicious cinematography, so I complained. The helpful staff sent me replacements, but the weird thing is that they also put a bunch of movies in the most wanted list. I thought, do I have a fan? Have they figured it out? Do they really want me to talk about whatever's in the list? Well, I changed it all up because there are are some movies that have been in there for too long, but I let it stand for a bit, and that's why I'm talking about Heat. They also put on 300 and the Final Fantasy movie, and some other stuff. If you are an employee at the rental thingy, feel free to comment! Perhaps you could sponsor me and then I wouldn't have to pay? It's a thought.

On to the review proper.

As a fan of cinematography and editing, I am a fan of Michael Mann. Nobody shoots in the night better, his shots are bloody spectacular, he can make an exciting and well choreographed action sequences like nobody else. If a budding young action filmmaker who wants to rip off someone named Michael, they should definitely lean in the Mann direction rather than the Bay one which they seem to be.

So Heat is a pretty movie. More impressively, it's a pretty movie in 1995, when some people were still using crappy 80s style film stock. It's strange to see early 90s cars and awful early 90s fashion (Val Kilmer is everything wrong with 90's fashion) shot in such a fantastic manner. I want to marry the cinematographer and father their children it's so pretty.

Errr...right, the movie itself. Sorry, I got distracted there a bit. This is a film about criminals robbing banks and the cops who are chasing them. The ringleader of the cops? Al Pacino, who has a rocky marriage (wives don't seem to like their husbands running off to chase criminals) and a troubled stepdaughter. The ringleader of the criminals? Robert DeNiro, who has just met a new girl and isn't certain he's doing the right thing anymore. His partners in crime include Val Kilmer, whose own marriage is in trouble, partly because his wife is getting tired of his crap, partly because she's not a very likable character in the first place. There's also a bunch of other stuff happening, and the cops and criminals are trying to figure each other out in order to do their job properly. It's ridiculously complicated, but it's easy to follow because the movie is 3 hours long.

It spends a lot of time with the personal lives of all the characters, trying to fully explore their motivations for doing the things they do. Agree with their motivations or not, you begin to understand why they do what they do, and these characters are almost all really complex and human in their depiction. Curiously, there's really only one person who could be considered a villain, a serial murder/rapist who is transparently evil from the first frame. I would consider him the only weak link, but he's a pretty minor character overall. It'd be nice if he could have been as complicated and well drawn as the rest of them, instead of just being an obvious villain though.

As a fan of action films, I've noticed that they aren't art often enough. Too many times personalities are established through exposition rather than acting. Villains are a collection of obvious evil attributes, if a criminal is the main character they're doing it for some cheap "be sympathetic to this guy!" reason. Here, they're stealing because that's what they do, and after watching this I understood them. I never got really why Marky Mark stole all that gold in the Italian Job, apart from Edward Norton being played as a dick. I enjoyed how both cops and criminals are portrayed as human beings, rather than pawns in a gunfight.

Another interesting thing is that at the time, a big fuss was made about Robert De Niro and Al Pacino being in the same movie. They rarely share the screen - I think you can count on one hand the times they're both in the same frame - but there was still a big deal made about it. I didn't get it, for I was ten, but I've begun to understand the fuss. In their prime, when they still had good agents who could get them decent roles in films people wanted to watch, these were fantastic actors, and are great foils for each other. In the famous diner scene, you understand both of them, their motivations, why they respect but still can't like each other due to their professional obligations. There's a sense they're rarely in the same frame because they're such strong screen presences that we can't handle the power of their acting. So, in recent years, Meet the Fockers and 88 Minutes, what's going on guys? It's interesting how their careers have gone so downhill that no fuss was made about the recent Righteous Kill, where they appeared with 50 Cent and Marky Mark's brother.

It's clearly difficult to make a great action film that also has good characters and interesting motivations. And people still don't take them seriously, this was never nominated for any academy awards in spite of excellent performances, direction, cinematography, editing and writing. Well, I do, so take that stogy critical establishment!

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