RARA-AVIS: The Hard-Boiled Dick softens up

From: Philip Benz ( Philip.Benz@wanadoo.fr)
Date: 10 Feb 2000

Another recent flic that got me thinking about the nature of the hard-boiled character was _Heat_ with De Niro and Pacino. Both men play the parts of very strong-willed hard-boiled characters with a heavy attitude, one on each side of the law.

While I would not call it a "hard-boiled film", I think it's interesting the way it toys with (even <gasp> deconstructs) the hard-boiled persona by focusing on each character's underlying values and his attachment to a wife or girlfriend.

De Niro, the quintessential brainy bad guy, claims that whatever attachments to people and things you make in his business, you have to be ready to drop them in 30 seconds and move on -- a sort of hard-boiled mantra of self-reliance. He tries to go against his timeworn principles and retire with a girl he's fallen for, but it destroys him.

Pacino and even Kilmer have their own spins on the hard-boiled vs romantic angle, and the film as a whole spends quite a lot of time on these emotion-laden interludes that give the potentially hard-boiled heros soft hearts that rob them of that title. There's a tension in this film between the two poles that I think reveals things about both attitudes.

This film left me feeling rather dissatisfied, but I can't help wondering if it isn't because I'm too strongly enamored with the hard-boiled/action approach for me to accept the way it gets undercut. Unless it was just a weak film. Without De Niro and Pacino with their usual stirling performances, would it have flown at all?

Cheers, --- Phil Lyc饠Astier, Aubenas, France

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