First off--personally, I'd give this film five stars, but I'm rating the DVD, and it does not justice to fans .
This is just not your typical 'cop' film by a long shot. Michael Mann has been aiming for this his whole career. His Thief (1981) has similar elements, even similar scenes. Heat is actually a remake of Mann's own LA Takedown, a 1989 TV film.
With Heat, every element is in place. The cast is a dream, even for a Hollywood film. DeNiro and Pacino do some of their best work and even the ground in the story of a dedicated cop tracking the leader of a band of professional thieves. The surrounding players are all pro: Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Jon Voight. The film has the perfect look, a cold, steely blue light and a much different look at LA than in any film. The soundtrack is in place as well, a mix of Eliot Goldenthal's rich score, Lisa Gerrard, Brian Eno, and Kronos Quartet.
At three hours, Mann throws in everything. The director's reverence for the material pushes the film way past genre. It's unfair to call Heat a 'heist' film or even a 'crime' film. It's a rich drama about relationships between cops and crooks and men and women.
The action is spectacular, everyone remembers the shootout scene in downtown LA. It highlights an awesome sound mix. Though it's extreme, it wasn't two years before a two man crew pulled off a bank heist and started a massive shootout with cops in North Hollywood.
The DVD sucks. For a film like this, a three hour epic from a big name director, with these stars, we get zilch. Three theatrical trailers, and French subtitles. There's a Dolby 5.1 mix, and the film is in widescreen with a nice, clean picture. I'm guessing Mann had little say in the release; this is doubtless a film that should get a commentary track and some behind the scenes material.
However, for now it's recommended on the strength of an excellent American crime film.