More noise than signal

Heat and L.A. Takedown

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

If our polling data is anything to go by, not everyone knows that Michael Mann’s Heat was the second time he’s used that material. First time round was a TV pilot called L.A. Takedown, eventually getting its own limited theatrical and home format release.

As you’d expect, both films share an awful lot of the plot, so the general overview is the same – there’s a dedicated L.A. cop, out on the edge who must find and take down a ruthlessly professional heist outfit that’s come to town. The opportunity comes when one of the outfit’s new hires turns out to be a psychopath, and an attempt by the outfit to rid themselves of him fails. This fruitloop’s attempts to bring down the gang gives the cops the window they need, leading in both films to the iconic street shootout, but perhaps the most interesting element of both films is the cops and the robbers realising that they’re not so different from each other.

L.A. Takedown

Clocking in at about half the running time and substantially less than half of the budget, L.A. Takedown is the bones of story as related above with none of the sub-plots. I suppose there’s some argument to be made for trimming out some of Heat‘s meanders, but, well, not when done like this.

The acting is almost uniformly hamtacular, and that really shows up the weaknesses in Mann’s dialogue – most of which are also evident in Heat, but there’s a world of difference between Al Pacino and Scott Plank.

That alone’s more that enough to take the sheen off, but worse is a sort of borderline technical incompetence in shots as simple as a vertical pan, which is shooglier than your handheld camcorder shots of a family holiday.

For it’s faults, however, it’s relentlessly paced, and the narrative is compelling enough to let you get into it by the end of the piece – and it’s hard to argue that superkicking the villain out of a tenth story window isn’t the single best ending ever committed to film, or possibly video in this case.

But, no. This is a curio piece for Mann fans, and perhaps any more general film fan looking to see a rare (if not unprecedented) case of a director remaking his own work. Not much here for wider consumption.


A much more lavish affair all round, Heat‘s probably best remembered for the pairing of Pacino and De Niro as cop and robber respectively. It also adds or expands on a number of subplots, such as nutter Waingrow’s extracurricular activities and a revenge plot on an underworld broker who double crossed the outfit, as well as delving more into the characterisation of the bad guys. No such luxury is afforded the hard-working folks of the L.A.P.D.

While everyone can surely agree that this is miles ahead of L.A. Takedown on every metric (bar superkick-through-window-icity), there’s some discussion about quite how good a film Heat is, and for the most part that boils down to how on-board you are with Mann’s stylistics and atmosphere building, which may be at peak levels here.

There’s also a broad consensus that while Pacino is mostly very good throughout the piece, and incredible in some scenes, the few scenes where he goes full Scarface are, well, not the strongest.

Regardless of quite how we individually feel about Heat, we can at least agree that it’s in the upper reaches of Mann’s output, and look forward to the inevitable episode focusing on his work.