Between the underrated 1981 movie Thief (starring a stellar James Caan) and TV’s popular Miami Vice, it seemed that Michael Mann spent most of the ’80s revving up for the crime-drama epic that was Heat. Most of the saga, which is loosely based on the real-life cat-and-mouse pursuit of thief Neil McCauley by Chicago cop Chuck Adamson, is a battle of wills and egos between detective Al Pacino and robbery mastermind Robert De Niro (the two Godfather alumni share only a couple of brief scenes, alas).
There’s lots of able supporting work by the likes of Diane Venora, Val Kilmer, Ashley Judd, Tom Sizemore, Natalie Portman, Amy Brenneman, Dennis Haysbert, and Danny Trejo, any of whose subplots might have made for its own compelling movie. The movie’s centerpiece, a bank robbery that spills out onto the streets of Los Angeles, is one of the most celebrated action sequences in contemporary film. It proved to be an influence on Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy – and, reportedly, on real-life gangs of thieves from California to as far away as Norway and South Africa.
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