This is one of my favorite films ever even though I recognize that it’s not perfect. It is a captivating crime-thriller drama that features some of the most precise and intense action sequences you will ever see, alongside some of the best acting (DeNiro, Kilmer, Judd, Sizemore and Amy Brenneman shine) and emotionally complex story-telling. Beyond all of the action, this is a heart-breaking movie about meaningful human connection.
Is there any scene in the movie that doesn’t pertain to this theme? You have the domestic scenes with (a typically over-acting) Pacino, his wife and their daughter which are the most obvious. The woman just wants some attention from Pacino and because she doesn’t get it, she gets too stoned on prozac to realize that her daughter is desperate for the same love. None of them can even have real, meaningful conversations. The same goes with Kilmer and Judd. DeNiro is missing a connection of this sort and is only lately beginning to realize it, evident in the dinner-celebration scene in which he calls Edie. Edie herself is a naive and sincere midwesterner getting eaten alive by the disconnect running rampant in L.A. She’s starved for some sort of meaningful interaction, making her primed for even a dysfunctional relationship, one that she finds with DeNiro’s McCauley.
Even the smallest scenes run rampant with this theme. You have Tom Sizemore with his apparent bimbo, a “relationship” that he’s willing to sacrifice in the end probably because there’s nothing real about it. (He receives his due.) There are the 2 or 3 scenes with the new-guy driver (a vulnerable and pitiful Dennis Haysbert) and his girl, which seem superfluous until the part where DeNiro approaches him in the diner and the viewer can witness exactly the torture that this character is going through as he sacrifices the one good thing in his life.
The end only makes sense when viewed through the lens of human connection. Otherwise the lingering shots on Edie as her heart is broken mean nothing, nor the pained indecision on DeNiro’s face as he has to drop everything in 30 seconds. The hand clasp at the end between DeNiro and Pacino is both characters’ tragic fulfillment of this need for a true companion. They are, after all, the two most similar characters in the entire movie, the only true compatriots, two men who sacrificed everything that matters to satisfy the needs of their careers. Goddamn this is a good movie.
But, like I said, not perfect. It is too long, and director Mann attempts to provide backstories on so many different characters that he makes the whole thing too disperse. I would have focused less on Pacino and his family. Some of the scenes between him and his wife approach the overkill level. Also, the dynamic between DeNiro’s group of criminals/friends is much more interesting, and has not been portrayed as often on film. Pacino, one of the more over-rated actors working, keeps himself under control for the most part, only screaming annoyingly a handful of times. Regardless, everyone should see this film, if for nothing else than the first on-screen meeting between DeNiro and Pacino.
21 March 2010