Review 2010: The Opinion Engine: 22/31: Heat (suggested by @linkmachinego)

Scene Unseen

"I say what I mean, and I do what I say."

Film At twenty-two minutes and twelve seconds into Michael Mann’s Heat, there’s one of the most interesting cuts in the film. We’ve just witnessed an argument between Val Kilmer and Ashley Judd’s husband and wife over the inconsistency of their life and how, because of his gambling and well, being a crook, she’s left looking after their child. Angrily, Kilmer speeds away from their house through the suburbs at speed and then the cut happens – to the interior of Al Pacino’s car, as his cop character, Vincent takes a call from his department with disappointing news of an evidential dead end.

This disorientating cut is curious because it breaks most of the rules of classic Hollywood continuity editing in which an establishing shot leads to the subject of the scene. Mann’s motive seems to be to fix the idea in the viewer’s head that Kilmer and Pacino are one in the same person, although not in the literal way that some directors, Lynch for example, might suggest that Kilmer has somehow transmogrified into Pacino. This is reinforced in the next shot which is another tracking shot of a car, this time Pacino is heading along the freeway at a similar speed to Kilmer, though with perhaps less anger.

The next scene has Pacino ferreting through the kitchen area of his apartment. He selects a cold chicken leg and bottle of Jack Daniels and as he settles at the kitchen table, his wife Justine, played by Diana Venora with a Audrey Hepburn hairstyle (see above), hammers down the stairs and the two have a passive/aggressive discussion about yes, Pacino’s inconsistency, his lateness in coming home, the inconsistency of their life and how, because of his being a detective, she’s left looking after their child (well, his step child). Their exchange lacks the anger of Kilmer and Judd’s and ends with a measure of understanding, if frustration.

In the next few scenes, we’re shown the genesis of one of these relationships as Robert De Nero’s robber baron bonds with Amy Brenneman over books in a bar, and though it’s a fairly typical meet cute, there’s a discordant note, not just in the music but in the fact that the whole thing is built on a lie; De Nero offers a false name and occupation and as the scenes continue onto the balcony of her apartment and into her bedroom, for all the tenderness of the mood, there is an ever present sense of dread as we know that even though some of his barriers are down, the central lie within their relationship will see its end..

In the midst of what’s ostensibly a heist picture, Mann’s showing us the progression of a bad relationship in reverse; the destruction of Kilmer and Judd’s coupling, the acrimony of Pacino and Venora and the tender beginnings of De Nero and Brenneman. Which demonstrates the brilliance of Heat. Despite selecting this section because of today’s date, basically at random, I’ve stumbled upon three scenes that exemplify Mann’s big theme, that in his cops and robbers world no one can have a “normal life” and that unlike the citizens the cops protect and the bodies which impede the robbers, some of whom they’re married to, there’s no such thing as a work life balance and relationships rarely work.

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