' ' Cinema Romantico: Heat, the Original Face/Off

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Heat, the Original Face/Off

I originally intended to write another in my Shout-Out to the Extra series. The extra I wanted to write about was featured in Michael Mann's "Heat", which was in my mind after reading about the film's anniversary screening in Los Angeles last week. The extra appeared in one of the film's diner sequences, when Neil (Robert DeNiro) and his regular bank robbing crew, Chris (Val Kilmer) and Michael (Tom Sizemore), meet up with the extra member of the crew, the illustriously monikered Waingro (Kevin Gage), who was along for one robbery and went semi-rogue. The extra is this guy...

He hears a noise, which is Neil slamming Waingro's head against the table, and so he looks up and toward the area of disturbance. And he gives his look an air of concern, as if he might tend to the matter if he needs to. 

Except as soon as he looks up, Sizemore has Michael throw the guy this look in return.

And the extra looks right back down. Sizemore's expression is memorably fierce, sure, but its ferocity is understood through the way in which the extra reacts. He seems to be thinking: "Nope, not gonna get my skull cracked open today." And I like to imagine him reading the same paragraph in the paper about the Lakers, over and over, trying to act like he's paying attention to what it says and not just thinking "Don't look up. Don't look up."

And in thinking about that sequence, I thought about how "Heat" is actually filled to the brim with moments like these, these face-offs between characters. "Heat" is a lot of things, of course. It is the quintessential Cops & Robbers saga; it is Michael Mann's second of three masterpieces in the 90s; it is the movie that finally brought Pacino & DeNiro together on screen; it is the movie that made many brooding males want to go to Fiji to see iridescent algae. But, I realize now, it pre-dated "Face/Off" by two years. Not, of course, in that Pacino and DeNiro literally changed faces, though wouldn't that have been something, but in Mann, maestro of machismo, taking dudes (and maybe not just dudes!), orchestrating Face Offs between his myriad characters, so many Face Offs, a litany of Face Offs, and Face Offs of different varieties.

I mean, you've got your basically famous Face Offs, the Face Offs between not just Cop & Robber but Pacino & DeNiro. You've got the Face Off in the diner......  

And then you've got the nicely conceived, thinking-outside-the-box Face Off when they aren't in the same room.

But there are Face Offs that go beyond Pacino & DeNiro. Here, for instance, we have your classic Face Off That Isn't Really A Face Off. Michael says "Stop talking, okay slick" which leads Waingro to remove his sunglasses in the manner of a man about to throw down. Michael, however, doesn't turn to stare back at Waingro until Waingro has finally looked away, two men who fancy their balls as being made of brass and are each waiting to see if the other looks first. 

Here we have a Face Off Between Friends. This is when Chris is telling Neil that he loves Charlene (Ashley Judd), his wife, which prompts Neil to provide the Pop Culture Manifesto that is The 30 Second Rule about being willing to walk out on anything in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat from the around the corner, including the woman you love. And Kilmer......well, Kilmer has become a punchline these days and what a tragedy, because man, that dude could act. Kilmer doesn't have Chris make up his mind in the moment; he decides that Chris has long since made up his mind about Charlene. That's why his "For me the sun rises and sets with her, man" is so effing romantic. Because he just, like, says it. Like, it's ingrained truth. And that leads to the Bro just re-affirming what the other Bro has said which is just austerity at its most heartrending which is just Mann at his most breathtaking.



Here's a three person Face Off, crispy edited, as Van Zant (William Fichtner), the archetypal money launderer, in conversation with Waingro who has offered his services to dispense with Van Zant's Neil problem, looks at Waingro, then at his bodyguard (Henry Rollins), and the bodyguard looks back, and Waingro at the bodyguard before looking back to Van Zant with a look that says "Hombre, I got all day." (These successive screen shots also reveal a continuity error where Henry Rollins is looking but that's for people who aren't me to complain about.)

Here's the Face Off that requisitely brings Neil face to face with his own beloved 30 Second Rule, which he will adhere to, because he has to, and becomes searing for the way Amy Brenneman has Eady's bewilderment melt into pain and for the way DeNiro plays the moment in a kind of "Wow, I really am about to walk out on this woman in 30 seconds because I feel the heat around the corner."  

This is actually my favorite Face Off in the movie, when Neil approaches Don (Dennis Haysbert), an ex-con once housed in the same prison as Neil, and pitches him a job as a getaway driver. "One answer. Right now. Yes or no." Then, Neil waits. He looks at Don. Don looks back. Don looks around, not like someone is going to overhear them but like he's wondering if someone will stop him from doing what he knows he's going to do. Because that's what this Face Off is - it is a Fatalistic Face Off. Neil isn't there to recruit him; Neil is there to re-claim him.

This is an incredibly underrated Face Off, and it's a single shot Face Off because Mann captures DeNiro's expression in the mirror, though Ashley Judd's expression trumps DeNiro's. This is in the midst of Charlene cheating on Chris, which is fairly understandable in the film's context, and Neil turns up to lecture her on how she will give Chris another chance. And Judd does not play it obediently. Like, DeNiro is something of a master of the "Can you believe this fucking guy?" reaction shot, but in this moment Judd unleashes one helluva "Can you believe this fucking guy?" reaction shot herself. Ashley isn't allowed a lot of heavyweight roles, because of Hollywood and all that, but here she went toe-to-toe with a former Heavyweight Champion of the World, and brother, she hit back.

We conclude on this Face Off, the Face Off That Isn't Really Even A Face Off. This is Chris buying explosives for a job, a seemingly nothing moment that, in fact, is so infamous that "Rushmore", of all things, kinda parodied it. And it's so infamous because of, again, Kilmer's quirky brilliance, where he shows his fake ID with a look that is at once vacant and intimidating, as if he's telepathically communicating to the guy, "Don't look up at me. Because if you do, it won't end well."


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