A group of professional bank robbers start to feel the heat from police when they unknowingly leave a clue at their latest heist.
Vincent Hanna: My life’s a disaster zone. I got a stepdaughter so fucked up because her real father’s this large-type asshole. I got a wife, we’re passing each other on the down-slope of a marriage - my third - because I spend all my time chasing guys like you around the block. That’s my life.
Neil McCauley: A guy told me one time, “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.” Now, if you’re on me and you gotta move when I move, how do you expect to keep a... a marriage?
“My ambition was always to make dramatic films. I had a strong sense of the value of drama growing up in Chicago, which has long had a thriving theater scene. I’d also found, working a lot of odd jobs as a kid – as a short-order cook, on construction, or as a cab driver – that there was tremendous richness in real-life experience, and contact with people and circumstances that were sometimes extreme. I was drawn to this instinctively. You find out things when you’re with a real-life thief, things you could never make up just sitting in a room. The converse is also true: Just because you discover something interesting, you don’t have to use it; there’s no obligation. Yet life itself is the proper resource. I’ve never really changed that habit of wanting to bring preparation into the real world of the picture, with a character that actors are going to portray.”
“On the other hand, the people who live in Los Angeles accuse me of being unfair to Michael Mann. For quite a few of them, Heat (1995) is the definitive Los Angeles movie, and they resent the cheap shots I directed at it. I ridiculed Mann for situating a character in the Hollywood Hills when her economic station would place her in the plains below and for rechristening the Vincent Thomas Bridge, named after a venerable state legislator from San Pedro, the ‘Saint Vincent Thomas Bridge.’ It’s true that I was in a sour mood when I saw Heat, first of all because the teenage cashier sold me a ‘senior citizen’ ticket, then I ripped my jacket on a seat arm, and I was expecting a regular 90-minute crime drama, not a three-hour (almost) epic. So I spent most of the last two hours wondering why there was no ending in sight. That was almost ten years ago, so I should have gotten over it by now. Can’t I think of a few nice things to say about Heat? Well, it was the first movie to depict the Metro Rail Blue Line, which runs from Seventh Street in downtown Los Angeles to Long Beach, and that impressed me. It did establish a new colour palette for Los Angeles movies, replacing smoggy warm tones with cool blues and slate grays, a colour scheme elaborated and exaggerated in Blade (1998) and The Thirteenth Floor (1999)”
“This is based on observations. This is based on people I have met, people I’ve known, people I’ve sat with and talked to. Thieves, cops, killers. It’s not derived from other cinema, it’s based on research.”
“Heat is the most meticulously designed of Mann’s features, with careful compositions positioning the characters against bustling cityscapes and empty expanses that externalize their interior lives. It’s awfully talky for an action movie, providing meaty monologues for a massive supporting cast that includes Val Kilmer, Ashley Judd, Natalie Portman and Jon Voight. The film delves so deeply into the characters’ dysfunctional home lives that it’s more like a melodrama with machine guns. Its most memorable fireworks are provided not by the justifiably legendary mid-movie shootout in downtown LA’s business district, but rather the preceding coffee shop scene in which Pacino and De Niro finally share the screen.
It was a meeting audiences had been waiting more than 20 years for, and Mann teased expectations by keeping the two icons apart until nearly the movie’s halfway mark. Their roles are skillfully shaped around each performer’s distinctive style, with Pacino’s edgy detective intimidating informants via noisy, nonsensical showboating with the actor’s trademark theatricality. (‘Ferocious, aren’t I?’ he asks during one of his most playful interrogations.) De Niro is all coiled menace and minimalist movements. He’s one of the greatest actors ever to work in close-ups, and some of the movie’s most powerful moments take place in silence with his face filling the screen.”
- 1. Michael Mann in an interview: F.X. Feeney, “The Study of Mann,” Director’s Guild of America Website, Winter 2012.
- 2. Thom Andersen, “Collateral Damage: Los Angeles Continues Playing Itself,” Diagonal Thoughts, February 2015.
- 3. Ryan Lambie, “Michael Mann’s Heat: how research created a classic thriller,” Den of Geek, August 2017.
- 4. Sean Burns, “Decades Later, Viewers Still Feel The Heat For Michael Mann’s 1995 LA Crime Saga,” wbur, August 2019.