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Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Hollywood Rewind | Heat: When Pacino met De Niro in a coffee shop

Heat has many great moments of action and emotion, but everything falls short in front of that one sequence featuring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. The historic coffee shop scene. It was the first time we saw the two acting giants share screen space.

Written by Anvita Singh | New Delhi |
Updated: November 8, 2020 3:04:23 pm
heat movieHeat featured Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Val Kilmer in pivotal roles. (Photo: Warner Bros)

“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.’” It is good advice. And one which Robert De Niro’s character Neil McCauley repeats multiple times during the course of the 1995 Michael Mann crime-drama Heat. Once to Val Kilmer and a second time to Al Pacino’s Vincent Hanna. I have watched Heat twice, and somehow I am still unable to figure out why the movie is not more acclaimed as any other crime film starring De Niro and Pacino. It is just as good, if not better.

De Niro is the crime master, Pacino is the brave, broken supercop. Val Kilmer is the anti-hero who is working with De Niro. They are all incredible, but let us talk about the historic coffee shop scene first. Because Heat has many great moments of action and emotion, but everything falls short in front of that one sequence featuring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Cinephiles went ballistic when they saw the two acting greats share screen space finally. Sure it was not for long, but it happened. And it was perfect. Describing that coffee sequence is like attempting to describe magic. It’s only visible to those who really pay attention. The silence, the pauses, the weight their words carried. So simple yet so powerful. It is the one time Pacino’s Hanna confronts De Niro’s McCauley. They discuss their women, their ‘careers,’ exchange pleasantries and final intentions. The framing is solid, kudos to Michael Mann and Dante Spinotti. Brilliant camerawork that never shows the two characters together at once. You see one face, and then the other. After all, they are confronting each other. Placing them together in a frame like friends must not have made sense.

After Heat released, there were so many theories about that sequence. For instance, one that did many rounds was De Niro and Pacino did not shoot for the scene together because we don’t ‘see’ them together. This is false. During an interaction with director Christopher Nolan, both Pacino and De Niro as well as filmmaker Mann revealed that that was not the case. In fact, they even stated that the coffee scene was not rehearsed because De Niro wanted it to be organic.

A few years ago, Michael Mann had spoken about making Heat in the present time. What he had said shows his sharp mind and his willingness to evolve, which is necessary for an artiste. “Let me put this rather precisely. When you see an emotion on a human’s face, how much of the face do you see? What constitutes fear? What constitutes apprehension? What constitutes suspicion? Yes, I evolved, but also, audience perception evolves, and media evolves, year to year. If I shot this film two or three years ago, this particular film would be less chromatic. And the sense of tension would become more pronounced with greater contrast and kind of a more blue-black palette, than the film as I wanted it to be when I shot it in ’94-’95,” Indiewire had quoted him as saying.

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But here is what I think, as a fan and a viewer. The changes that Mann mentioned might have made the movie better visually. But structurally, thematically and narrative-wise, Heat is still a crime masterpiece.

Hollywood Rewind: Home Alone | Jerry Maguire | Brief Encounter | The Truman Show | The Deer Hunter | The Shining | Clueless | Ferris Bueller’s Day Off | Blue Velvet | Taxi Driver | The Lord of the Rings I | Zero Dark Thirty | The Godfather | Say Anything | Warm Bodies | Bright Star | Malcolm X | Stardust | Red Eye | Notting Hill | FargoThe Virgin Suicides | The Breakfast Club | Enchanted | Walk the Line | Blood Diamond | Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban | Mortal Kombat | Bridges of Madison County | Edward Scissorhands | Breakfast at Tiffany’s | She’s Gotta Have It | Ever After | The Devil Wears Prada | The Matrix | Creed | Mulan | Ratatouille | Shutter Island | Her | Dead Poets Society | Sleepless in Seattle | Waitress | Pride and Prejudice | The Dark Knight | Before Sunset | School of Rock | About a Boy | A Few Good Men | 50/50 | Begin Again | Brooklyn | Drive | Chocolat | Batman Begins | 10 Things I Hate About You | The Departed | Freedom Writers | Pretty Woman | Dan in Real Life | Jurassic Park | TangledMeet Joe Black | Monster’s Ball | Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind | You’ve Got Mail | Half Nelson | Fight Club | Doubt | American Psycho | Julie and Julia | Forrest Gump | The Silence of the Lambs | Finding Neverland | Roman Holiday| American History X | Tropic Thunder | Before Sunrise | Scent of a Woman | Finding Forrester | Sixteen Candles

You can watch Heat on Amazon Prime Video.

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