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Recommended Re-Viewing: Is 'Heat' De Niro's Last Vintage Performance?

im电竞官网-Featuring one of the great telephone scenes in history

heat
Esquire

Recommended Re-Viewing is a series in which we make the case for re-watching an old film or TV series which you can stream without leaving your house. It might be a plot that's so bad it's good, a scene which deserves more interrogation or a director's underrated gem.

This time, Esquire content director Will Hersey pays tribute to 1995 crime odyssey 'Heat' and a performance from Robert De Niro at his peak.


Somehow, the classic Michael Mann heist movie Heat is now 25 years old; coincidentally, exactly how long it feels since the start of lockdown.

I’d hate to put a number on how many times I’ve rewatched it. Many of them from the days of idly flicking through terrestrial channels late at night, remember them?

It didn’t matter where in the film you stumbled across it or how close you were to going to bed; you knew you'd be there for the final airport head–to–head. The mood, the soundtrack and Mann’s LA skylines suck you in; the flawless cast give you something new to notice every time.

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Some say it’s long, earnest, incredibly Nineties and full of genre clichés. Its weirdly passionate fans would say, "yeah I know, isn’t it great?"

The list of standout scenes is long. First up is that street gunfight of course, and rightly so. At the time it was a cultural moment; “have you heard about the shoot-out in Heat?”

When I saw it for the first time, I had goosebumps, partly in anticipation, but mainly because it exceeded already lofty expectations. The SAS were involved in training the actors and Val Kilmer’s technique is apparently so good that his scenes have been used in US Marine training. Who doesn't want that to be true?

Then there’s Pacino v De Niro in the coffee shop, which carries its own folklore. A moment so hyped and analysed that rumours spread that they didn’t even shoot the scene together on set. They did of course; but it shows just how epic this confrontation was to film fans in 1995.

Throughout, Pacino is revved up and improvising in several shouty exchanges. Apparently he imagined his character Vincent Hanna as a heavy cocaine user, which goes some way to explaining some of his delivery: "Sit dooown Ray!"

De Niro’s Neil McCauley is smart, quiet and focused; a reserved career criminal who listens, assesses and only speaks when it’s absolutely necessary.

He wears a signature grey double-breasted jacket, talks like he’s just read a self-help book for bank robbers and somehow – somehow - manages to pull off the only goatee beard that has successfully outlasted the Nineties.

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In one scene he seduces his girlfriend with the aggressively delivered lines: “It’s a book about metals” and “Lady, why are you so interested in what I’m reading?” She decides to run away with him to New Zealand a few days later. Like all great films, even the dodgiest moments are classics in their own right.

In 25 years of watching and quoting this film though, the scene that keeps delivering above all others is Robert De Niro’s phone call to the brilliantly slimy businessman Roger Van Zant, played by William Fichtner, who has just betrayed them.

im电竞官网-The scene crackles with menace.

“I am talking to an empty telephone… cos there is a dead man on the end of this line.”

Throughout his career, De Niro is never better than on a telephone call.

im电竞官网-He’s not great at laughing. And he definitely can’t kiss convincingly. Instead he slowly descends on his victim like a silent movie Dracula, his face contorted as he pecks.

But get this guy on a landline and he soars like a bird.

In the brilliant Midnight Runim电竞官网-, he spends half the film on pay phones as a world weary bounty hunter trying to bring in his man.

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In Goodfellasim电竞官网-, his supporting turn as Jimmy Conway quietly steals the film and features one of the greatest payphone scenes in cinema – and one of the most De Niro moments in his whole career – as he learns about the death of his friend Tommy DeVito, passing through shock, confusion, anger and despair in just a few seconds. It’s a masterclass.

In Heat, a leather-gloved De Niro, calling - inexplicably - from the pass of a busy restaurant, is in total command of his character. The quiet click as he presses down the receiver button may as well be a bullet for the terrified Van Zant.

It’s perfect scene in a perfect performance. And he’s a big part of why this film transcends its cop v robber storyline.

It might just be the last great peak De Niro performance; De Niro as we want to remember him. His next film was The Fan in 1996, also the year that mobile phones began to put landlines slowly out of action. Coincidence? De Niro’s career has never been the same.


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