Having developed his skill as a master of contemporary crime drama, writer-director Michael Mann displayed every aspect of that mastery in Heat
, an intelligent, character-driven thriller from 1995, which also marked the first onscreen pairing of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. The two great actors had played father and son in the separate time periods of The Godfather, Part II
, but this was the first film in which the pair appeared together, and although their only scene together is brief, it's the riveting fulcrum of this high-tech cops-and-robbers scenario. De Niro plays a master thief with highly skilled partners (Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore) whose latest heist draws the attention of Pacino, playing a seasoned Los Angeles detective whose investigation reveals that cop and criminal lead similar lives. Both are so devoted to their professions that their personal lives are a disaster. Pacino's with a wife (Diane Venora) who cheats to avoid the reality of their desolate marriage; De Niro pays the price for a life with no outside connections; and Kilmer's wife (Ashley Judd) has all but given up hope that her husband will quit his criminal career. These are men obsessed, and as De Niro and Pacino know, they'll both do whatever's necessary to bring the other down.
Mann's brilliant screenplay explores these personal obsessions and sacrifices with absorbing insight, and the tension mounts with some of the most riveting action sequences ever filmed--most notably a daylight siege that turns downtown Los Angeles into a virtual war zone of automatic gunfire. At nearly three hours, Heat qualifies as a kind of intimate epic, certain to leave some viewers impatiently waiting for more action, but it's all part of Mann's compelling strategy. Heat is a true rarity: a crime thriller with equal measures of intense excitement and dramatic depth, giving De Niro and Pacino a prime showcase for their finely matched talents. --Jeff Shannon