City Paper is not for tourists
Michael Mann made his reputation with films—notably his big-screen debut, Thief—so hyperactive they looked like trailers for themselves. The almost-three-hour Heat, however, slows down and stretches out, in part to create an elegiac mood, but mostly to savor that Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are together again for the first time—and Mann’s got ’em.
Pacino and De Niro both appeared in The Godfather II, of course, but not together. Teasingly, writer/director Mann keeps them apart for most of Heat as well, eventually staging a verbal clash of the titans in a coffee shop. (Coming so soon after the Jack Nicholson/
Anjelica Huston Crossing Guard conclave, the scene establishes the L.A. luncheonette as the place for one-on-one Acting.) Fiery cop Vincent Hanna (Pacino) and chilly robber Neil McCauley (De Niro) will meet again, of course, but then there won’t be time for conversation.
Swaggering between existential despair and rhapsodic self-regard, Pacino has the more flamboyant role. It’s so flamboyant, in fact, that it sometimes slips into his Scent of a Woman mode, as when Vincent incongruously shifts from hard-boiled detective chatter into a verse of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix’’ or a free-form paean to the female posterior. Indeed, Pacino has suffered a lot of Heat’s conceits before. Though its psychology is not so crude, the film returns to the moral of the moronic Cruising—that lawman and lawbreaker have the strongest of bonds, and are on some level interchangeable. (“All I am is what I’m going after,’’ the cop finally decides, both ruefully and unapologetically.) Since Vincent regularly informs his associates that Neil is “good,’’ the story is also something of an unconsummated romance, and the two men end the film holding hands.
Heat is a procedural that lovingly contemplates both the bloody heists of Neil and his accomplices—notably Val Kilmer’s Chris, Tom Sizemore’s Michael, and Jon Voight’s Nate—and the dogged sleuthing of Vincent and his fellow cops. It’s also a domestic drama, though: A loner and a workaholic, Vincent is about to see his third marriage collapse and his divorce-scarred stepdaughter self-destruct. The only liability of the ruthless Chris (a thin part for Kilmer, who must also have been seduced by the Pacino/De Niro pairing) is his devotion to his wife and young daughter. Even the wary Neil has recently let down his guard, falling for Eady, a graphic artist who becomes a serious complication when he attempts to get both of them out of L.A. in a hurry. (The murderous Neil lies to Eady about his line of work, but she sticks with him even after she discovers the truth; meanwhile, the righteous Vincent’s home life is even more traumatic than his job.)
These domestic undercurrents deepen but don’t transform what is in many ways a mundane cops-and-robbers scenario; Mann seems about as committed to them as he is to such narrative clutter as an utterly arbitrary serial-killer subplot. (Perhaps the latter is designed to differentiate the film’s honorable killers from its ignoble one.) Despite a soundtrack that includes Eno, Moby, Einstürzende Neubauten, and the Kronos Quartet, most of Heat is as old-fashioned as Pacino and De Niro’s star-power faceoff: There’s the heist that goes wrong, the chase across distinctive terrain (LAX’s runways), the rapport between hunter and prey, and as many other gangster-movie commonplaces as Mann could stuff into his script. Heat may be something different for Mann, but in the larger context of Hollywood it’s mostly more of the same.
You’ve heard of the model turned actress? Julia Ormond is an example of the actress turned model, compelled in no fewer than three movies this year to stand by looking pretty as two men fight over her. Those men include such name-above-the-title powerhouses as Brad Pitt, Richard Gere, Sean Connery, and now Harrison Ford, but their clashes have not been momentous. The principal difference between the silly Legends of the Fall and the sillier First Knight is that the first made money and the second didn’t. The new Sabrina might make a few bucks, too; it’s pretty routine, but competently made.
Though updated with references to flat-screen TVs, corporate takeovers, and the Concorde, Sidney Pollack’s Sabrina is little altered from Billy Wilder’s 1954 original: Sabrina Fairchild (then Audrey Hepburn, now Ormond) is the beautiful chauffeur’s daughter who grew up on the Long Island estate of the Larrabees, fearsome mother Maude (Nancy Marchand), workaholic older son Linus (then Humphrey Bogart, now Ford), and playboy younger son David (the William Holden role diminished by TV host Greg Kinnear). If anything, the remake seems a little less contemporary than its predecessor, since the suicide attempt that sends Sabrina to Paris has been replaced by, well…by nothing, really. In the remake, the heroine goes to Paris, apparently, because it’s impossible for an attractive young woman to get a decent haircut in the New York metropolitan area.
Sabrina moves to Paris, works for Vogue, is befriended by an editor wise in the ways of life and couture (Truffaut and Resnais regular Fanny Ardant), and gets that haircut. She doesn’t entirely purge herself of a girlhood crush on the supposedly dashing David, however, so she’s thrilled when he’s dazzled by her new image. Linus is less pleased, however. David is now engaged to a physician (Lauren Holly) whose parents happen to control a company with which Linus is planning a merger. In order to save these two impending relationships, he must keep Sabrina and his brother apart, so he decides to romance her himself. Naturally, Linus discovers that he’s not quite so ruthless as he imagined.
This slightly refurbished antique is full of unlikely notions: the lovely Ormond as an ugly duckling at Vogue, consummate British stage actor John Wood (probably cast as Sabrina’s father to explain a Long Island working-class woman’s British accent) as a chauffeur, and the fact that multimillionaire Linus has never been to Paris. But then, Linus is intimidated by couscous, another of the unbelievable touches in Barbara Benedek and David Rayfiel’s update of Wilder, Samuel Taylor, and Ernest Lehman’s original script. (Note to other multimillionaires making their first visit to a Moroccan restaurant: It’s bad form to use both hands.)
As with so many Hollywood romances, credibility is something of a problem for the new Sabrina. Why exactly would a confident young woman tumble in a matter of days for a cold, uptight guy who’s old enough to be her father and who admits he started pursuing her entirely for fiscal reasons? It can’t be the money, since a fairly repulsive last-minute plot wrinkle reveals that Sabrina will have no financial worries. Of course, the film is just as unconvincing about money as it is about love: In these days of multinational corporate mating, industrial empires are no longer likely to be joined at the altar, and wastrel brothers are rarely accepted as emergency substitutes for their veteran siblings. Since this high-finance romance seems to know little about either subject, what’s left for Sabrina? Well, it will always have Paris.CP