When was the last time you watched Heat? If the answer isn’t “this week” or, better yet, “earlier today,” you should watch Heat. Like, right now. I’ll wait.
Michael Mann’s 1995 masterpiece, starring Robert De Niro as an expert criminal, Al Pacino as an LAPD detective who loves great asses, and Val Kilmer as a Val Kilmer-type, used to be on cable nearly all the time, but now it’s on Amazon Video literally all the time. (It’s also probably on TNT this weekend.) So, final warning, you have no excuse if you haven’t seen it. I’m never not thinking about Heat — there’s a lot to think about; it’s nearly three hours long — but I’ve been thinking about Heat more than usual lately. That’s not only because of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood‘s pairing (which we’ll discuss below) but because of The Irishman, the first time De Niro and Pacino, the proverbial actors of a generation, have been in the same movie since Heat. Wait, you’re telling me there’s a movie called Righteous Kill? No, there isn’t, never happened.
One of the reasons why Heat made over $187 million at the box office, a huge number for a lengthy R-rated mediation on the “we’re not so different, you and I” relationship between cops and criminals, is because of the infamous diner face-off, the debut on-screen meeting between De Niro and Pacino. (They both appeared in The Godfather Part II, but never in the same scene). It’s not even the best scene in the film (this is), but it’s still Michael Corleone/Frank Serpico/Sonny Wortzik and Vito Corleone/Travis Bickle/Jake LaMotta, together at last. It was a momentous occasion, or as The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan put it, “People were so struck when the film came out seeing two such great actors together, who had not acted in a scene together before.”
(The funny thing is, in a movie filled with tense robberies and shoot-outs, the diner scene is fairly… normal. It’s Vincent Hanna and Neil McCauley, the characters played by Pacino and De Niro, talking about recurring dreams and barbecues and ballgames; there’s even begrudging admiration between the adversaries. It does have the most famous quote in the film, though: “A guy told me one time, don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.”)
I should, in theory, feel that way about Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. It’s Brad! And Leo! In the same movie! And yet, much of the conversation surrounding the 1960s-set movie has been centered on it being Quentin Tarantino’s next-to-last film, Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, and the controversy over Bruce Lee’s brief-but-entertaining scene. Is it possible for audiences to feel the same level of Pacino/De Niro excitement again?
In anticipation of Once Upon a Time, the Hollywood Reporter published a glowing feature on Leonardo DiCaprio, calling him Hollywood’s Last Movie Star (uppercase intended). “He is arguably the only global superstar left in a film industry in which an interchangeable group of actors regularly suit up in spandex or brandish a lightsaber for the latest billion-dollar earner — only to be ignored by audiences outside of franchises,” the piece reads. “Unlike waning megastars like Will Smith, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert Downey Jr., DiCaprio sits alone atop the Hollywood pantheon without ever having made a comic book movie, family film, or pre-branded franchise. Leo is the franchise.” That’s how I imagine DiCaprio enters every room, screaming, “I am the franchise” while vaping like no one’s business (“Sir, this is an Arby’s”). But do NOT look at him.