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Notes from the Back Row

Sa Prize part 1

It was John Luc Goddard, one of the key directors of the French new wave film movement of the ’60s, who said, "Crime is not a social problem, it’s a film genre."

And it certainly is. Some of the most edge-of-your-seat, asscheek-gripping films are criminal movies, be it a slasher flick like Friday the 13 th or a bank heist movie like Dog Day Afternoon. The best heist movie, in my opinion, is Heat starring Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and directed by the masterful Michael Mann.

Heist movies have a formula, you stage a super exciting heist right at the start and then the rest of the film is a set-up for the even more exciting heist near the end, then the crooks either get away or get caught.


follows the rules as ace thief Neil McCauly (De Niro) and his team hit an armoured car right away. The rest of the film focuses mainly on devoted cop Vincent Hanna’s (Pacino) attempts to catch McCauly and foil their next big job, a bank. The action and criminal elements are played and shot with such attention to detail that on those grounds alone Heat is a classic. The post-bank heist shootout in the streets of downtown LA, with bullets flying and smacking into cars, pavement and marble pillars (and some bad guys) is perhaps the most realistic gunfight I’ve ever seen on film.

But Heat doesn’t rely on simple action; there are several excellent thematic undercurrents and conflicts examining the honour amongst thieves, careers (both criminal and legit) vs. familes, risks vs. the sure thing and, most excitingly, Pacino’s obsessed cop vs. De Niro’s devoted criminal. These two actors haven’t been in the same film since The Godfather 2 and Mann uses their incredible talents to paint a deliciously complex relationship of mutual respect and admiration. Both men are seen to simply be doing what they’re good at, opposite sides of the same coin.

"All I am is what I’m going after," Pacino says, and he knows he’s distancing himself from his family but can’t stop pursuing his goal.

De Niro’s the same, but as a criminal he’s more careful. "You gotta be able to walk away from everything when you feel the heat around the corner." That’s his justification for leading a solitary life. No room for love, it just gets in the way.

With an ensemble cast to die for (Val Kilmer, Ashley Judd, Tom Sizemore, Jon Voight, a young Natalie Portman) Mann still knows how to play it right with the two main stars. Pacino and De Niro’s first shared screentime takes place over a cup of coffee and Mann lets the brilliant actors do their thing. The charged scene is simple, precise and goddamn brilliant. That it is followed by the aforementioned best shoot-out ever just proves that when he’s on his game, few American directors can match Michael Mann.

I don’t know about you, but in movies, I generally cheer for the criminal. Cops are just too lame, the only time they’re cool is when they take the law into their own hands and go on a killing rampage, essentially becoming criminals themselves. Heat gives an impression that the line between cops and criminals is a fine one indeed. It makes for a bang up movie, but we all know that in real life a criminal isn’t gonna waste your time and money ticketing you for riding a skateboard in an empty village just because he was picked on as kid and wants to get back at the world. Meanwhile four dudes from Surrey are shooting bear-spray on a crowd of innocents less than two blocks away. But we’ll open that box of donuts later…

AT VILLAGE 8 Sept. 2-8: Transporter 2; Constant Gardener; The Cave; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Red Eye; March of the Penguins; Brothers Grimm; 40 Year Old Virgin; Wedding Crashers.