Stream On: families that steal together…? ‘Heat’ and ‘The Killing’

By on October 26, 2023

“Behind every successful man, there is a woman.” (Anon.)

Stanley Kubrick’s third feature film, The Killing, and more recently, Michael Mann’s Heat, enhance the drama of collective caper movies by including the crooks’ families in the action.


/Amazon /Streaming /🍅89%🍟94% /Trailer /1995 /R

“Allow nothing to be in your life that you cannot walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner.” (Neil McCauley)

Heat is based on a true story, that of one Neil McCauley, a professional criminal who was tracked down by Detective Chuck Adamson, who later created the television crime drama Crime Story, and wrote four episodes of Miami Vice. Heat director Michael Mann was executive producer of Miami Vice and directed the 2006 film adaptation.

Heat is a tour de force, from Mann’s script to his direction, and has a great cast. It was the first time Robert De Niro (McAuley) and Al Pacino (as Detective “Vincent Hanna” of the LAPD) appeared together (they were both in Godfather II, but never in the same scene). Val Kilmer (Tombstone), Jon Voigt (Ray Donovan), Tom Sizemore and Amy Brenneman round out the top of the billing.

McAuley’s crew of disciplined and professional criminals will knock over an armored car or a bank with a minimum of fuss—and when complications arise, they’re “ready to rock and roll,” as Detective Hanna puts it. Their wives and girlfriends are their support system, except for McAuley, a loner, who, during the movie, meets a girl who will put his credo of walking out in 30 seconds to the test.

We also see the private lives of Detective Hanna’s command; but like McAuley, Hanna’s own personal relationship with third his wife (Diane Venora) and stepdaughter (Natalie Portman) is in a state of flux. Hanna pulls McAuley over and arranges to meet him for coffee, where they connect—and bond, while affirming that neither knows “how to do anything else” and that if they meet professionally, neither will hesitate to take the other down if it comes to it. Of course they do meet professionally, in the third act, but not before Hanna’s wife and stepdaughter, McAuley’s new girlfriend, and the wife of McAuley’s right-hand man (Kilmer) influence the action irrevocably. Heat is immersive personally, spectacular objectively (an armored-truck hijacking, a bank robbery and a shootout in the streets of Los Angeles—which is often played for Marines at the Corps’ School of Infantry, to show them the concept of bounding overwatch) and an all-around exciting yarn that could have been written by Jean-Paul Sartre, who posited that “hell is other people” in his play No Exit (1944), about interpersonal conflict.

Roger Ebert wrote, in his 3.5/4-star review: “[Heat’s] not just an action picture. Above all, the dialogue is complex enough to allow the characters to say what they’re thinking: They are eloquent, insightful, fanciful, poetic when necessary. They’re not trapped with clichés. Of the many imprisonments possible in our world, one of the worst must be to be inarticulate—to be unable to tell another person what you really feel.”



/Amazon /Streaming /⭐⭐⭐⭐ /Trailer /1956 /NR

“None of these men are criminals in the usual sense. They’ve all got jobs. They all live seemingly normal, decent lives. But, they’ve got their problems and they’ve all got a little larceny in ’em.” (Johnny Clay)

If Heat is an epic novel, The Killing is an engrossing short story. Stanley Kubrick’s (Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey) third theatrical movie tells a simple but detailed story of a racetrack heist. Like Heat, its cast is deep, and includes the perps’ families.

Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden, Dr. Strangelove) is a veteran criminal planning one last heist before settling down and marrying Fay (Coleen Gray). He plans to rob the money-counting room of a racetrack during a race. He assembles a team consisting of a betting window teller (Elisha Cook, Jr., The Maltese Falcon) to gain access to the back room; a sharpshooter to shoot the favorite horse during the race to distract everyone and keep the winnings from being paid out; a wrestler and a bartender, who needs the money for his sick wife, to provide another distraction by provoking a fight at the track bar to cover Johnny’s entrance to the counting room; and a corrupt cop to receive the loot that Johnny is to drop out of a window.

The teller’s wife is bitter at him for not delivering on the promises of wealth he made when they married, so he tells her about the robbery to impress her and keep her from leaving him. She in turn enlists her lover to steal the loot from him and his associates after they remove it from the track.

Johnny’s plan is meticulous, but as in chess, as we see in the storefront chess club where Johnny goes to recruit the wrestler, it’s dependent on each move being made in order, and much of Johnny’s security depends on each player being insulated from the larger game on a need-to-know basis. There are blunders and a rogue queen move, but after the game, it’s a little dog that puts the kibosh on the whole deal.

Kubrick, who loved chess, was just 27 years old, and controlled the set like Johnny Clay managed his gang. Veteran actor Sterling Hayden said, “I’ve worked with few directors who are that good.” Four stars from Roger Ebert.

(Pete Hummers is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to earn fees by linking Amazon.com and affiliate sites. This adds nothing to Amazon’s prices.)

Click here for more Stream On: What to watch on TV columns by Pete Hummers. Columns are archived and updated when necessary on Substack.


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