Michael Mann’s Heat is unquestionably one of the greatest crime films of all time.
In Empire Magazine’s 2017 polling of the 100 Greatest Movies Of All Time, Heat was ranked 27th. And with powerhouse performances from both Al Pacino and Robert De Niro (sharing the screen for the first time in Cinema History) – this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
The plot follows Neil McCauley, (De Niro) a master criminal, planning one last big score, all while the unstable Lieutenant Vincent Hanna (Pacino) attempts to track him down, amidst a slowly disintegrating personal life.
The story is based on that of real-life Chicago police officer Chuck Adamson’s pursuit of a real-life criminal – also named Neil McCauley, in the 1960s. Mann began working with Adamson in the 1980s, bringing his decades of detective experience to various films and TV shows, including Miami Vice of which Mann produced.
What drew Michael Mann to this story was the idea that two men on opposing sides of the law could share a single-minded attitude to their roles within society. This resulted in Heat’s most iconic scene, wherein McCauley and Hanna meet in a coffee shop to set the terms. This was based on Adamson’s real-life meeting with McCauley, which the Director references in an interview with author Steven Rybin for the book Michael Mann: Crime Auteur:
“It was a friend of mine, Chuck Adamson, who shot and killed the real Neil McCauley, in Chicago, in 1963. And when Chuck told me about it, in the late 70s or early 80s, what was most striking was that he’d met McCauley; quite by accident, they’d had coffee together. And Chuck had respected the guy’s professionalism – he was a really good thief, which is exciting to a detective, and he tried to keep any risks to a minimum – but at the same time he was a cold-blooded sociopath who’d kill you as soon as he looks at you – if necessary…”
Criminal and Police Officers are mirrors of each other. Criminals could not exist without lawfulness and lawlessness itself would be rendered irrelevant in a world without crime. This theme of a Hero who ‘completes’ his or her’s Antagonist is explored similarly in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight – which Nolan has stated was a clear influence on him whilst filming. There are numerous points throughout Nolan’s 2008 masterpiece that serve as visual homages to some of Mann’s better-known works, which is made especially clear in this video.
Nolan’s personal love of Mann’s crime-epic goes even deeper than mere appreciation – with the Director hosting a special retrospective roundtable of the film on September the 7th 2016, with stars DeNiro and Pacino, along with Mann, present.
‘Heat’ has also influenced stories in other mediums. In Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto V, one particular mission involves an audacious heist on an armored truck, lifted almost beat for beat from Mann’s crime classic – hockey masks included.
What is consistently impressive about Heat is how it still holds up almost 25 years later. The key word here is Iconic – iconic performances, iconic scenes, iconic shootouts – so, if you haven’t already watched Heat, set aside three hours – and enjoy.