Michael Mann’s beautifully hard-edged direction – not unlike a sports car that masks its brawn underneath a beautifully elegant exterior – was never more muscular or sleek than with Heat, his near-masterpiece about the cat-and-mouse competition between ruthless thief Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) and cagey lieutenant Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino). Mann strives for epic grandeur in every ice-blue widescreen composition and tightly edited conversation (which boast the director’s firm grasp of shot-reverse shot technique), and though his film has its minor deficiencies – there’s still too much overacting on Pacino’s part, and a few too many deadweight scenes (like every one featuring Hank Azaria) – the filmmaker nonetheless breaths vibrant life into his somewhat clichéd story about kindred warriors on different sides of the law. Hanna and McCauley are alienated outsiders, victims of a masculine code of honor that places duty, perfection, and a dedication to method – whether it be catching criminals or eluding the powers-that-be – above personal concerns. In his last great screen role, De Niro delivers a frightening vision of frosty criminal efficiency that nonetheless conceals a longing for comforting human contact. Yet the film’s steely force is mainly attributable to Mann, who both subtly evokes how these urban predators (who resemble cowboys in an L.A.-set Western) use emotional isolation as a means of protecting themselves from the harsher realities of their work (and the world), while also depicting, in noir-like fashion, how repudiating one’s true nature can only lead to catastrophe.