Al does Heat

“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.”

The Scoop: 1995 R, directed by Michael Mann and starring Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, and Val Kilmer

Tagline: A Los Angeles crime saga

Summary Capsule: Pacino and DeNiro play cops and robbers writ large. Val Kilmer decides he loves his wife. Some other stuff happens, too.

Al’s Rating: Two out of two speakers blown while watching the bank robbery. Holy crap, that was loud!

Al’s Review: Confession Time: Until last night, I had never seen Heat.

Well, I guess that’s not strictly true. The first time I sat down to watch it was in the fall of 1999, my freshman year of college. We probably got about an hour in, but, for some reason (possibly involving alcohol. Or girls. But—let’s face it—more likely alcohol) we never finished. I tried to watch it again sometime around 2003, my senior year of college, and sat through about 20 minutes before falling asleep (there is also a fair chance this involved alcohol). In 2008, I purchased it on DVD with the knowledge that Heat was one of the Great Films of the Nineties and I would surely love it if I could ever make it to the end. Six attempts later, my confidence had started to wane.

Finally, last night, with the house blessedly empty, I sat down to give Heat it’s due and watch this sucker ‘til the credits rolled. I fell asleep. But then I woke up! And I made myself a strong cup of coffee. And I restarted the movie. And then something clicked.

I finished Heat. And it was damn good.

The story, for those of you who haven’t seen it (Shame! Shame on you! ::shifty eyes::), is about a cop (Al Pacino) and a crook (Robert DeNiro) on opposite sides of an impending robbery. They and their teams strategize and plan, the two even meet face to face at the local diner and philosophize. Finally, the time for talking ends, the deed goes down, people die, and everyone left is forced to deal with the fallout.

I think what tripped me up about this film for so long was that I had never been entirely sure what kind of movie I was supposed to be watching. I knew it had cops but it never quite felt like a typical cop movie. I knew it was about a heist, but it never quite felt like a typical heist movie. What I eventually discovered—after which coffee became unnecessary—is that I was watching a chess match. DeNiro’s Neil McCauley and Pacino’s Vincent Hanna are professionals at the top of their respective games and the film plays out like fascinating game of cat and mouse: McCauley does A, so Hanna does B, but McCauley knows that Hanna will do B so he’s secretly doing C. Once it dawned on me what was happening, I was hooked.

Like the characters they portray, DiNiro and Pacino are in top form. Hanna and McCauley are driven individuals with ethics and values. They have dreams and emotions and insights and all the little human complexities that make them feel like real people instead of stick figures. Val Kilmer plays a supporting role and is totally outclassed by Pacino and DeNiro, but does his job capably.

The plot unfolds over five acts, like your high school Shakespeare, which makes it easy to label the movie as pretentious. Personally, I think Michael Mann has too much respect for the characters and the story for Heat to simply exist as an excuse to be artsy. His willingness to set the camera down and let his actors act is refreshing compared to all the genre films that seem to pigpile on each other trying to be the fastest, loudest, and coolest. His direction is deliberate and proves that Mann knows cool. It’s about silence and patience. It’s an attitude, not a special effect, and Heat has it.

So, just in case I’m not being clear: see this film. This is a classic story designed in a classic style that has upped the ante for the crime genre ever since it’s release. Believe the hype: Heat is worth it. Just do yourself a favor and don’t wait ten years.

See kids? If you keep making those faces, it *does* get stuck like that!


  • Heat is actually a remake of an earlier Michael Mann film, L.A. Takedown. Following L.A. Takedown‘s release, Man apparently often said he wanted the film remade but had no interest in directing.
  • This is the first film in which Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro acted together. They famously costarred in The Godfather, Part II, but never interacted due to the movie’s split chronology.
  • Nick Nolte and Jeff Bridges were discussed as alternative leads if Pacino and DeNiro turned down the film.
  • Keanu Reeves was originally cast as Chris Shiherlis (ultimately played by Val Kilmer).
  • Michael Madsen, Don Johnson, Jean Claude van Damme were all contenders for the Michael Cherrito role (ultimately played by Tom Sizemore).
  • Robert DeNiro’s character, Neil McCauley, is based on a real thief with the same name. Several sequences in Heat, including the diner scene with Detective Hanna, were based on actual events. The real McCauley was killed by the police in a shootout during a grocery store robbery.
  • The diner scene was filmed in an actual diner, Kate Mantilini, in Beverly Hills. The diner is still in existence and patrons can request to be seated at the table where the scene was shot.
  • In 1997 two men were so inspired by Heat that they equipped themselves with assault rifles and body-armour and staged a near identical robbery on a Hollywood bank which resulted in a massive shootout with the LAPD. The gunfight was so fierce that the police at the scene had to ask for extra-ammunition to be brought to them from the police station and broke into a nearby gun shop to obtain rifles as their pistols and shotguns could not penetrate the gunmen’s bulletproof vests (as a result, Sergeants in the LAPD were afterwards issued with assault rifles to be carried in their cars for just such a contingency). Eventually one robber was shot dead by a responding SWAT team and the other killed himself after being wounded in the leg. The entire battle was broadcast live on national television and the incident has come to be known as the ‘Heat shootout’.

Groovy Quotes

Richard Torena: I get killed for telling you this!
Vincent Hanna: You could get killed walking your doggie!

Eady: You travel a lot?
Neil McCauley: Yeah.
Eady: Traveling makes you lonely?
Neil McCauley: I’m alone, I am not lonely.

Vincent Hanna: My life’s a disaster zone. I got a stepdaughter so messed up because her real father’s this large-type a**hole. 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?

Vincent Hanna: What are you, a monk?
Neil McCauley: I have a woman.
Vincent Hanna: What do you tell her?
Neil McCauley: I tell her I’m a salesman.
Vincent Hanna: So then, if you spot me coming around that corner… you just gonna walk out on this woman? Not say good bye?
Neil McCauley: That’s the discipline.
Vincent Hanna: That’s pretty vacant, you know.
Neil McCauley: Yeah, it is what it is. It’s that or we both better go do something else, pal.
Vincent Hanna: I don’t know how to do anything else.
Neil McCauley: Neither do I.
Vincent Hanna: I don’t much want to either.
Neil McCauley: Neither do I.

Justine Hanna: You don’t live with me, you live among the remains of dead people. You sift through the detritus, you read the terrain, you search for signs of passing, for the scent of your prey, and then you hunt them down. That’s the only thing you’re committed to. The rest is the mess you leave as you pass through.

 Neil McCauley: Assume they got our phones, assume they got our houses, assume they got us, right here, right now as we sit, everything. Assume it all.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • The French Connection
  • The Departed
  • The Wire

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