Directed By: Michael Mann

Starring: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Amy Brenneman, Ashley Judd, Mykelti Williamson, Wes Studi, Ted Levine, Jon Voight, Val Kilmer, and Natalie Portman

"A guy told me one time, 'Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.'  Now, if you're on me and you gotta move when I move, how do you expect to keep a... a marriage?"
-Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro)

Many casual moviegoers have mistaken Al Pacino for Robert De Niro and vice versa.  I've never quite understood why.  Sure, they both have portrayed some iconic mobsters over the years.  Sure, they're both actors whose best moments are when they've lost their cool on the big screen.  Sure, they're two of the most distinguished actors of their generation (or any other for that matter).  Regardless of those similarities, there are some things that should differentiate these two legendary thespians.  Pacino is a much more emotional performer and more often than not portrays a tortured soul.  His owl eyes say it all.  De Niro, on the other hand is more often than not a cold fish who wears his menace like a badge of honor.  The quote above says it all.  If there's any film that's emblematic of the starkly different styles of these two acting titans, it's Michael Mann's 1995 film Heat.

Neil McCauley (De Niro) is not a typical guy who goes to barbecues and ballgames.  A disciplined criminal who is good at what he does, McCauley leads a heist crew consisting of Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer), Michael Cheritto (Tom Sizemore), Trejo (Danny Trejo), and his latest recruit Waingro (Kevin Gage).  McCauley runs his crew with one principle.  He doesn't want them to get attached to anything they can't walk out on in thirty seconds flat.  On the opposite side of the law, Lieutenant Vincent Hanna (Pacino) spends all his time chasing guys like McCauley around the block.  The LAPD homicide detective lives his life amongst the remains of dead people.  Because of his commitment to hunting down his prey, Hanna's life is a disaster zone.  He's on the down-slope of a marriage with his wife Justine (Diane Venora).  His stepdaughter Lauren (Natalie Portman) gives him plenty of grief about her absentee father as well.  Little do McCauley and Hanna know that their paths will cross.  It all begins when a heist doesn't quite go as planned.

For McCauley and his crew, stealing $1.6 million in bearer bonds from money launderer Roger Van Zant (William Fichtner) should be simple.  Things go awry, however, when a trigger-itchy Waingro kills one of the security guards, and McCauley's crew is forced to kill the other two.  McCauley is not too happy about having to kill innocent bystanders and blames Waingro for it.  When he tries to kill Waingro, the slippery cowboy gets a lucky break thanks to the cops and flees the scene.  With Waingro out of the picture, McCauley focuses on selling the very bearer bonds he stole back to Van Zant, a business prospect that certainly displeases the money launderer.  He also consults with his friend Nate (Jon Voight) about the next score. Meanwhile, McCauley and his crew have a new problem brewing, the LAPD.  With three dead security guards stretched across a Los Angeles sidewalk from their first score, homicide detective Hanna is put on the case and is hot on the heist crew's trail.  An elaborate game of cat-and-mouse ensues.

Heat is one of my all-time favorite films.  The movie gods conspired to give us a sprawling epic of cops and crooks.  Under the hand of visionary director Michael Mann, we're treated to a poignant tale of morality that highlights the similarities of the good guys and bad guys.  With Hanna and McCauley, we have two guys who do what they do best because they don't know how to do anything else, nor do they want to.  Whether to be home free or to dispense justice, these two will do whatever they must to get the job done, even if that means pulling the trigger.  Mann couples these opposing yet similar characters with his modern vision of the city of Los Angeles.  With gritty cinematography, superbly rich dialogue, and a melancholic score, Mann's dark, edgy depiction of the city sets the stage for this potent moral tale.

For a movie like Heat in which Mann explores what makes his characters tick and the directions in which their moral compasses are pointing, casting decisions are of the utmost importance.  Fortunately, Mann got it right with this star-studded ensemble.  For his part as Lieutenant Vincent Hanna, Al Pacino is pitch perfect.  As usual, Pacino portrays a conflicted character whose personal life is in the crapper thanks to his dedication to catching bad guys.  With those owl eyes and some really tormented looks, he makes us believe that his character is truly walking among the dead on a daily basis.  At the same time, Pacino gives us this sharp, crisp cop who is fueled by the angst he's internalized from walking among the remains of the dead.  He gives us a passionate, relentless hunter trying to catch his prey.  Pacino's portrayal of homicide detective Vincent Hanna is yet another ferocious performance in a career full of them.

In his stoic portrayal of career criminal Neil McCauley, Robert De Niro gives an equally masterful performance in a different way.  De Niro's McCauley is a detached character with a rather perverse moral code.  He has no problem stealing from the 1%, but doesn't like doing harm to everybody else.  At the same time, he has no intention of going back to jail for his deeds.  Cool as a cucumber, this stone cold killer will do whatever he must to whomever he must to stay free.  McCauley's other defining trait is his inability to commit to anything for fear of it entrapping him.  This includes his romantic interest Eady (Amy Brenneman).  In a way, he's just as tormented as Lt. Hanna but in a more silent, brooding sense.  In this magnificent performance, he has a commanding presence whenever he graces the camera.

Pacino and De Niro have a stellar supporting cast backing them up as well.  We have Val Kilmer leading the pack as McCauley's close friend Chris Shiherlis.  Fresh from portraying the Caped Crusader in Batman Forever earlier in the year, Kilmer simultaneously gives us a disciplined criminal and a loose cannon in his personal life.  As Chris's wife Charlene, Ashley Judd gives a saucy performance and brings some attitude to a role that could have otherwise been pretty bland.  For her part as McCauley's girlfriend Eady, Amy Brenneman gives an innocent, carefree performance as this innocent soul dragged into a world she's never known.  I'd be remiss if I neglected to mention Kevin Gage's menacing performance as Waingro.  He gives us one detestable sicko who loves the taste of blood.  Tom Sizemore and Danny Trejo also give tough performances as McCauley's crew members Cheritto and Trejo.  Lastly, we have a young Natalie Portman giving an emotional performance as Hanna's struggling stepdaughter Lauren.

If I've ever seen an all-star cast, it's the talented performers who make up the ensemble of Michael Mann's Heat.  Together for the first time ever, we have two legendary actors headlining the film.  I know they were in The Godfather, Part II.  Since the follow-up to The Godfather was both a sequel and a prequel with Pacino and De Niro in two separate storylines, however, this doesn't count in my book.  They never actually interacted on screen.  In Heat, on the other hand, we get to see two masters at work doing what they do best.  With an incredible supporting cast and Mann setting the stage for their epic encounter, we've got instant movie magic.  Heat may just be the greatest cops and robbers movie of all time.  This outstanding piece of cinema undoubtedly gets a sober rating.