Listeria: Top Ten Scenes From Heat (Besides the Diner One)
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 7, 2008
Well, you know, for me, the blogging IS the juice…
Pacino and DeNiro. DeNiro and Pacino. Pacino and/or DeNiro. DeNiro b/w Pacino. Pacino f/ DeNiro. The pairing of these two is like Hollywood’s Break Glass in Case of Emergency plan, only to be used in the most dire of circumstances. So powerful is this combination that the first time they were in a movie together back in ’74, they weren’t even used in the same timeline, much less the same scenes. Twenty-one years later, the powers that be decided that a new three-hour action epic was big enough to hold both of them in the same decade, but limited them to just two scenes together. Finally, in the year of our lord, 2008, apparently things have gotten so dire that the two have been given what appears to be an entire movie together. In the era of Bangkok Dangerous, is it really so surprising?
Righteous Kill looks like the best thing ever. Unfortunately, it happens to be directed by Jon Avnet, he of George of the Jungle, Up Close & Personal and 88 Minutes fame, so far more likely, it’s going to be The Score all over again. Anyway, even it was the best thing ever, it would still probably be worse than Heat, which was the movie that essentially proved that you could add things like character, drama, complexity and scope to an action movie without causing it to suck. A commercial and critical success, it broke all sorts of paradigms essentially challenged the genre’s linchpins to step their game up. Consequently, we got The Peacemaker and Mission: Impossible. Eh, close enough.
Of course, the scene everyone remembers from the movie is Pacino and DeNiro’s diner conversation–the movie’s fulcrum, in which the two protagonists sit down face to face for the first time, talk about their lives’ issues, acknowledge a mutual respect but warn the other to stay out of their way.
And for good reason–it’s the O-Watcher to end all O-Watchers, one of the most riveting scenes in all of recent film, two of the all-time great actors at the very top of their game with immaculate scripting and note-perfect pacing and direction. But it’s tired at this point, and there are more than enough classic scenes around it for support that are less heralded almost as memorable. If Righteous Kill can match one of these ten, I’ll chalk it as a win.
10. “‘Coz there is a dead man on the other end of this fuckin’ line.” Long-time character actor William Fichtner gets one of the movie’s sleazier roles as a businessman who resents Neil (DeNiro’s character) hijacking one of his trucks and then offering to sell the bonds back to him. After his attempt at ambushing Neil and his crew fails very badly (honestly, how arrogant a businessman can you be to think you can outsmart a master thief?), Neil telephones and informs him calmly, but in no uncertain terms, that his life is now nil. It’s an ice-cold scene, and even better because its follow-up doesn’t even happen for another hour and a half, which you’re nonetheless very unlikely to notice.
9. So Long, Mr. President. Very few movies would have room for a character like Dennis Haysbert’s Donald, an ex-con trying to go straight whose purpose in Heat is unknown until Neil’s crew runs into him working in a diner (different one) and offers him a job as their driver on their heist-to-be when their fourth man opts out. Haysbert contemplates his options, decides to accept, and politely shoves his boss into the dishracks. It’s one of the movie’s numerous minor victories, and one of its even more numerous minor losses–glad as you are that Donald isn’t taking his asshole boss’s shit anymore, it’s heartbreaking to see him lose his way, especially when you get the distinct feeling he might not be coming back from this gig.
8. PIVEN. Back when he was just that bald-ish guy who kept showing up in John Cusack movies, Jeremy Piven has a one-scene role in Heat as a doctor treating Neil’s badly wounded right-hand-man Chris (Val Kilmer). Neil demands that Piven trade shirts with him, and Piven quietly pleads to let him keep the shirt his daughter got him for his birthday. “I don’t give a shit who gave it to you,” DeNiro responds, “Take it off.” Piven has no choice but to comply. It’s one of the movie’s best illustrations of Neil’s unflinching sense of purpose–even Ari Gold keeps his trap shut when Bobby D lays down the law.
7. “YOU DO NOT…GET…TO WATCH…MY TELEVISION, RALPH!” In the movie in which the Shouty Al Pacino archetype was perfected (although he’d been blossoming ever since GF III, maybe even before that), SAP gets in one of his best shots when he finds wifey Justine (Diane Venora) cheating on him with Ralph (Xander Berkley, 24‘s George Mason). When she berates him for not being angry enough, he demonstrates his fury by taking it out on his TV set. Later, he’s seen depositing the banged-up TV by the side of the road. It’s yet another “What other movie would…?”
6. “The bank is worth the risk.” Neil and his crew, after noticing that supercop Vincent (Pacino) is hot on their trail, debate whether or not to continue with their latest venture, knowing full well that the cops are monitoring their every move. Neil lays out the situation in the plainest terms possible, and tells his troops that now is the moment of decision. They all decide, for their own reasons, that the juice is worth the squeeze. It’s a scene of startling maturity and emotional heft for a bunch of thugs discussing a bank job.
5. “LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!” Neil finds himself unable to resist the urge to settle the score against Waingro (Kevin Gage), the man who fucked up their earlier heist and then ratted his crew to the cops. He breaks into Waingro’s hotel room, fucks him up a little bit, then points the gun at him and makes the above demand. After some resistance, Waingro complies, and Neil promptly puts two in the chest and one in the scene. If #10 was cold, this is a fucking Antarctican stalagmite.
4. The Shootout. What director Michael Mann (one of the most underrated directors of the last 30 years, by the way) understands that few of his peers seem to really grasp is the importance of sound in shootout scenes. Mann’s bullets explode with a crispness that’s practically palpable, the gunfire sounding more believable than just about any other movie you’ll ever see on TNT on a Saturday afternoon. The first time Chris notices the cops and instantly comes up firing, the movie jumps to a new level. Great flick though Heat is, it’d just be an overcooked cops-and-robbers potboiler without the bang-bang to back it up. Luckily, there’s no shortage of ammo to be found here.
3. “‘Coz she’s got a….GRRREEEEAAAAT ASSSSS!!!!!! AND YOU GOT YOUR HEAD…ALL…THE WAY…UP IT!” Shouty Al Pacino’s classic TMI response to snitch-to-be Alan’s (Hank Azaria) most likely rhetorical question about why he ever got mixed up with Charlene (Ashley Judd), Chris’s wife. Supposedly, SAP helped build his character on director Michael Mann’s tip that he believed Vincent often snorted coke on the job to keep sharp. Uh, you think?
2. “Never going back.” The movie’s less acclaimed, but equally powerful Pacino-DeNiro scene comes at the movie’s very end, where after a tense face-off, a gunned down Neil lays dying in an air strip, while Vincent looks on sympathetically and eventually takes his brother-from-another-mother’s hand. Neil reminds Vincent that no matter what, he wasn’t going back to prison, essentially absolving the cop from any sort of guilt or blame for doing his job. Moby’s super-dramatic “God Moving Over the Face of Waters” swells in the background, and LAX looks gorgeous at night. Movies really can’t ask for closing scenes much better than this one.
1. “There’s time.” The movie’s real killer scene, the one that gets me every time. Neil has sufficiently eluded Vincent’s grasp, and is prepared to get the fuck outta dodge for good, when fence Nate (Jon Voight) calls to inform him that he has located Waingro, who Neil had swore vengeance against. Nate tells him that he figures Neil wouldn’t care enough to go back for Waingro, and Neil confirms as much before hanging up. But you can see the thought start to gnaw at Neil, and you know, just know that there’s nothing about his character that suggests there’s even a chance he’s just gonna let this go. He swerves the car off the highway to head to Waingro’s hotel, insisting to girlfriend Eady (Amy Brenneman), “There’s time.” But you know he’s wrong, or just lying–it’s one measure of thoroughness too many, and Neil’s gotta go down. And it’s a killer, since if you’ve ever once rooted for the bad guy in a movie before, you’ve gotta be rooting for these kids to make it. Every time you see it you hope it ends differently, but alas, it rarely does.
Honorable mention, I should say, has to go to the scene where Waingro goads a prostitute into telling him that he was the “monster fuck of [her] young life,” then proceeds to murder her for no good reason. An all-time top 10 Terrible Scene in a Classic Movie.