By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 1, 2015
Heat, the gritty, glamorous Los Angeles crime drama written and directed by Michael Mann, may be The Godfather of the 1990s.
I make that claim not because the 1995 movie runs nearly three hours, or because it stars Al Pacino, who played Michael Corleone in the Godfather series, or because it co-stars Robert De Niro, who played a younger version of Michael’s father, Vito Corleone (the part played by Marlon Brando in the original), in The Godfather: Part II, although I would maintain all of those facts certainly bolster my case. Instead, I write that because Heat, like Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather movies, is as focused on its characters’ family intrigues as it is on the criminal (and, in this film, police) activities conducted by many of those characters.
Take Vincent Hanna, the hotshot Los Angeles police detective portrayed by Pacino. He’s been married to his third wife, Justine (Diane Venora), for a number of years, but he remains stubbornly unwilling or unable to talk with her about the depraved crimes and criminals whom he investigates on a daily basis. Hanna’s stepdaughter, Lauren (Natalie Portman), is an adolescent on the verge of a nervous breakdown; in one of Heat’s earliest scenes, her inability to find a hair tie in the preferred color triggers a meltdown.
Neil McCauley, the master thief whom De Niro plays, has no family of his own (other than his crew, that is). One of McCauley’s accomplices, Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer) should be rolling in money thanks to the tightly knit gang’s exploits, but he’s gambled most of it away. Now his wife, Charlene (Ashley Judd), wants Chris to find a way to stop hemorrhaging cash and to turn legitimate without stinting on their lavish lifestyle. One of the movie’s key plot points involves both McCauley and Hanna uncovering the Shiherlis’s vulnerabilities and attempting to exploit them.