View Full Version : HEAT: why doesn't the ending work?

Jan Klimkowski
07-04-2011, 07:35 PM
I watched Michael Mann's Heat, with Pacino and DeNiro, last night for the fifth or sixth time.

It's a starkly beautiful film.

The movie is a cinematic tour de force and, technically, the ending is executed supremely well.

Emotionally, it's never worked for me.

I will discuss the ending in this post, so if you haven't seen the movie, you may want to stop reading.

One of Mann's visual motifs in both Manhunter and Heat is bright white light and deep enveloping shadow.

Burnt Out Light and Amorphous Dark.

Mann uses this palette sparingly but always metaphorically.

Whenever the screen near burns out - car gliding through a tunnel, characters shot against a white light window, characters bathed in white neon liight - or a rich darkness floods, permeates, the screen, then Mann intends a symbolic, psychological meaning.

At one level, the light is the Fantasy, the Other Life that they can have if they leave this one behind. DeNiro and Pacino both dream of this World. At times they stumble towards it.

But does either actually want to live there?

Or are the enveloping shadows their natural home, their habitat, the space in which they live - every waking second, every sleeping breath?

This symbolic visual motif dominates the end scenes.

Mann and DeNiro conduct their inevitable Dance of Death amongst the airport storage trailers. They toy, almost tease, each other, firing off shots that have no chance of killing.

Always floating in the deep black background are defocused light sources, reminiscent of the City of Lights that forms the backdrop for DeNiro's Dream of Escape with his graphic designer girlfriend, Eady.

But it's a fantasy. DeNiro doesn't know or truly love Eady.

He loves the pretty, vulnerable, face on which he imposes his fantasy of Another Life.

So, DeNiro and Pacino dance amongst the airport storage trailers. Waltz in the shadows. In their world. The natural home of both ruthless crook and obsessed homicide cop.

Suddenly, DeNiro is caught in the bright white light of a jet flying over. He could soar away, to his dream world, but he chooses to slide back into the shadows, back into the Dance of Death.

Next, Pacino is illuminated by a jet flying over. He's a sitting duck, betrayed by the light.

The weakness.

DeNiro steps into the illumination just far enough to make the kill. But Pacino sees the shifting shadow of his dance partner. He's still in his terrain - the shadows are his friends - and he fires.

A direct and fatal hit.

DeNro: "I told you I'm never going back.".

Then the dying DeNiro holds out his hand and Pacino clasps it.

Yet the ending has never worked for me.

Perhaps because it's too explicit.

Perphas the ending should be DeNiro's words, and Pacino's tortured face looking on. No clasping of hands. Leave that footage on the cutting room floor.

DeNiro speaks. Pacino watches.

Cut to black and crank up the music.

Like the ending of Bladerunner's Director's Cut - stark and harsh.


Psychologically, DeNiro and Pacino are only alive in the shadows.

Just before the final climax, Pacino carries third wife Justine's daughter to A&E after her bloody, suicidal, cry for help. For love.

Then, Pacino (Hanna) and Justine embrace, his police bleeper rings, and they have this exchange:

JUSTINE (really questioning) ...Will things change between us?

HANNA (beat) I don't know...

(beat) Probably not...

(beat) ...but I am reminded of how much I love you. But that may not be enough.

JUSTINE (kisses him) You have to go to work, don't you?

HANNA (touches her face) Yeah.

As he's rising.

JUSTINE Be careful, Vincent. Be very careful...

(beat) Let's keep on trying?


walking backwards, facing her, nods "yes." The last thing

in the world he wants to do is leave. Then he turns and

starts running down the white marble corridor...

Then he turns and starts running down the white marble corridor...

Charles Drago
07-05-2011, 01:55 AM

Thank you very much for this. I'll read attentively again, and if I have anything of value to add, I'll do so.

In the meantime, know that you are not alone as a master of deep political analysis who also thinks deeply about film (your Kubrick critiques are splendid). George Michael Evica left unfinished a book-length work titled The Blood Mysteries of Brian DePalma, and he was a contributor to Cineaste magazine. An overnight visit to the Evica home in West Hartford always would include the showing of a George Michael-selected video, followed by priceless discussion.


Phil Dragoo
07-05-2011, 02:07 AM
I saw Heat just once.

This ending scene of the cop and crook telegraphed the win for the former.

The balance of the film is powerful, but the timekeeper turns on the lights and says times up and the budget is maxed.

The inevitable triumph of law over crime echoed Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Cool Hand Luke, Bonnie and Clyde.


Tactically the dead guy was walking in the open while the survivor was waiting in ambush, hidden.

Life stacked under art, crab's legs cut off to get it in the box.

Charles Drago
07-05-2011, 12:31 PM
... crab's legs cut off to get it in the box.

Must Johnny Rosselli enter into everything?

So to speak.

Phil Dragoo
07-12-2011, 01:51 AM

Mr. Johnson's English class interrupted by the intercom announcing we'd be leaving by the buses at the entrance.

It was the year Williams died in the spring. We were being shipped, on a Friday, in cans.

Anticipating Rosselli.