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Thursday, August 21, 2008

When Legends Meet

Redirected from, where it was originally published.

Over the past 30-odd years, few actors have shaped the direction of popular culture like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. It was perhaps inevitable then, that one day, the twain should,indeed, meet.....( The awesome twosome did not have any scenes together in The Godfather II, which featured De Niro as a young Vito Corleone in flashback scenes, while Pacino reprised his role as Michael Corleone)

And meet they did, in style, in Michael Mann's 1995 stylish noir flick Heat. Make no mistake: The director's achievements are considerable. The film grabs you by the scruff of the neck and never lets you go till the end. The action scenes are some of the best ones you'll ever see, the sprawling Los Angeles nightline has been used beautifully for some stirring sequences, and Michael Mann the writer, too has a winner on his hands.

But more about all this later: For now let me drool over every cine-lover's wet dream: Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in action together. Watching the two of them, you get to understand why they are rated so highly, they seem to operate on a different plane altogether. They are also a study in contrast: De Niro supremely controlled, every ripple of emotion fine-tuned, every outburst cleverly unleashed, not a single muscle betraying that he could ever be anyone else than his character........... Pacino on the other hand brings a berserker brilliance with him. When Al Pacino is on the screen, you can never be sure of what's going to happen, he pulls off every scene with an insouicance and an is-that-all kind of an air, which makes every scene he is in, his very own.

To spice things up, in this film they are on opposite sides of the law: De Niro plays Neil McCauley, a career thief and heist artist par excellence, while Pacino's character is Vincent Hana, the tough-as-nails cop with more than a mad streak. Also in the film are Val Kilmer, who plays Chris, a longtime friend and accomplice of McCauley, Ashley Judd, who plays Chris's wife and cameos by Natalie Portman who plays Hana's troubled stepdaughter from his third wedding, and veteran Jon Voight who plays McCauley's fence.

What begins as a simple cops-and-robbers tale diverges and broadens out into a personal contest between the two stalwarts as they try to give each other the slip. Hana immediately realises that McCauley is no ordinary thief and the mutual respect the duo have for each other only grows. Mann knows when to keep his cards close to his chest. From the beginning of the film, it was inevitable that the two gladiators would ultimately confront each other. But instead of making it a wild-west gunslinger sequence, he has the two men meet over coffee.

This sequence, which runs for seven minutes or so is a miniature masterpiece in itself.(And it has since then been done to death in both Bollywood and Hollywood) Not only is it a masterclass in acting, it is also a perfect example of keeping things simple and not going overboard: skills many accomplished film-makers often forget they had. As McCauley and Hana reach a tacit understanding and admire each other, they both know that when the day comes, both of them would be equally ruthless.

Christopher Nolan, who is currently the toast of Hollywood, and deservedly so, said in an interview that one of the inspirations for "The Dark Knight" was "Heat". And indeed, when you look at the noirish treatment of the action scenes, or the massively lighted skyline shots of Gotham City, you understand what Nolan is talking about. Perhaps the biggest tribute to "Heat" was(I don't know if this is intentional)William Fichtener, who gets robbed in the opening heist sequences of both films!

The bottomline is: Go watch "Heat" , if nothing else, then for the chance to see two of the greatest actors of all time in tandem. I would say that this might be your only chance, but late this year, the two legends are at it again, this time both playing detectives, in "Righteous Kill" (Giving them company is Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, but that's another story.....)

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