Directed by Michael Mann.
Starring Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Amy Brenneman, Ashley Judd, Mykelti Williamson, Wes Studi, Ted Levine, Dennis Haysbert, William Fichtner, Natalie Portman, Danny Trejo and Jeremy Piven.
A professional thief is hunted by an unrelenting detective in the streets of Los Angeles.
“The central event occurred from a friend of mine who was a sergeant in the Chicago PD,” explained filmmaker Michael Mann as to the origins of Heat. The police officer told a story about two charismatic and respectful adversaries engaged in a fatal conflict with each other. The relationship served as the nucleus for the screenplay. “The very first time I wrote it was in the late 1970s. I wrote it again after I did Thief . I didn’t want to go back into the same arena.” The native of Chicago approached his friend and colleague Walter Hill (The Driver) to direct the crime action drama; however, Hill turned down the offer. The big screen project became a small screen one. “When I shot L.A. Takedown  I bridged it severely.” After shooting The Last of the Mohicans (1992), Mann revisited his original script. “I read it and suddenly I wanted to do it. I liked the form and structure.” The cat and mouse game between the heist crew and the law enforcement offices was crosscut with their domestic travails. The narrative technique allowed for a deeper exploration of the various characters which appealed to writer-director.
“The preparation for the bank heist was in two parts,” remarked Andy McNab who provided the technical weapons training with Mick Gould. “Obviously, there was the getting into the bank and the second was the gunfight outside.” Authenticity was extremely important for Michael Mann who had his cast given different curriculums depending on whether they playing the criminals or the police officers. “I wanted everybody well trained so that they felt they could actually do what the characters in this film do. The actors responded in a very good way.” Al Pacino (The Godfather), who portrays Lt. Vincent Hanna of the LAPD Robbery-Homicide Division, stated, “I’ve never experienced something like this. He had us out on a range to shoot guns. I’ve done it before. You practice and learn. People teach you how to do it and where it goes. Only I’ve never done it with real bullets.” The performers playing the heist crew got to participate in a mock robbery in preparation for their roles. “They went in and carried out their tasks, got into the vehicles and we drove off,” said McNab. “When we got the tapes back from the bank, nobody had been seen.” The exercise made the actors feel more comfortable. “Everybody took this movie really seriously,” observed Danny Trejo (Machete). “When we were in the planning stages of the robberies you really got that feeling this is the way it is. This is way you do it.” Val Kilmer (Tombstone) chuckled, “I heard something that was very flattering. There is a shot where I run out of bullets; I change a magazine, and go back to firing. The Marines show the clip telling those maggots, ‘That if you can’t change a clip as fast as this actor then get out of my army!’”
“The main heist was a big challenge,” stated First Assistant Director Michael Waxman. “We were only allowed to shoot on Saturdays and Sundays. Every weekend we would have to pull in there, get everything setup and pull out of that sequence on Sunday.” The sound of blanks being fired was overpowering. “We used 800 to 1000 rounds per take when we had our cops and criminals going at each other,” recalled Gould. “It was quite an amazing sound.” Sound Mixer Chris Jenkins was intrigued by the noise. “The gunfire downtown was truly a horrifying sound and because of the skyscrapers everywhere; it was just deafening,” said Jenkins. “It would hang in the sky for maybe eight or ten seconds.” The gunfire could not be replicated in post-production. “Nothing artificial could come close delivering the fear of the sound that the full load made moving through those automatic weapons,” revealed Michael Mann. “The way the sound ricocheted off the walls of the buildings of an empty downtown. You couldn’t manufacture the actual sound. It was quite extraordinary.”
It was a coup to get the both of them to do this together but it was ready to happen,” stated Producer Art Linson on the casting of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro (Taxi Driver) who would star in a scene together for the first time. “It was the kind of material that called for those actors.” Commenting on the adversarial characters of Vincent Hanna and Neil McCauley (De Niro), Michael Mann said, “I never ever viewed them as being the flipside of the same coin. I viewed them as being as antithetical to each other.” The director explained, “One of the things that are different is that Neil McCauley is a sociopath and Hanna is not.” Jon Voight (Midnight Cowboy) makes use of a sports metaphor to describe the relationship between Hanna and McCauley. “Those two characters are very charismatic and they sense each other throughout,” remarked Voight. “There is some respect. It’s like two boxers in a ring who are great boxers. They know something between themselves that no one else knows.” Film critic James Wolcott was impressed by a creative choice made by the originator of the tale. “Everybody expected that they would be butting heads scene after scene,” said Wolcott. “What Mann does is very ingenious; he delays the scene where they show up together in the same physical space. And then when he does he sets it into a very non-confrontational setting. It’s not a big showdown; they’re sitting over coffee.”
The $60 million production grossed $174 million worldwide and was nominated by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films for Best Action/Adventure Film and Best Supporting Actor (Val Kilmer); it also competed for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress (Diane Venora) at the Chicago Film Critics Association Awards. Natalie Portman (Black Swan) contended for Best Performance for a Young Actress in Drama Film at the YoungStar Awards. “I only do films that I truly believe in,” readily admits Michael Mann who served as an major inspiration for filmmaker Christopher Nolan and his blockbuster hit The Dark Knight (2008). “I always felt,” enthused Nolan, “Heat to be a remarkable demonstration of how you can create a vast universe within one city, and balance a very large number of characters and their emotional journeys in an effective manner.”
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Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.