Decades after the release of Michael Mann’s Heat, the classic crime thriller has lingered in the minds of fans, critics, peers and the director himself.
Now the film is getting what fans have been craving since its release in 1995: a sequel.
The catch is that this is a novel written by Mann himself.
As the 79-year-old explains, he just had so much to say.
“You always feel like you’ve come up short,” Mann says during a Zoom interview from his home in Modena, Italy, where he currently works on Ferrari, with Adam Driver as the racer and car magnate.
“I love researching and building these characters very, very fully and rooting the actor in a lifetime. . . The film is a sliver, it’s just a very small snippet of a complete life.”
Mann has finally completed the story of the groundbreaking film about a group of thieves and the detective who wants to bring them down.
In Heat 2, Mann has brought back deadly, calculating criminal Neil McCauley, played by De Niro in the film; the swaggering detective Vincent Hanna, played by Pacino; and such supporting characters as Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer), Michael Cheritto (Tom Sizemore) and Nate (Jon Voight).
And while he hopes to make another Heat film, he’s chosen to introduce his new narrative with just words.
Written with award-winning crime writer Meg Gardiner, the 480-page book is both a sequel and prequel that looks back to the late 1980s and into the 21st century, expanding on the world of McCauley and Hanna and Shiherlis, among others, and adding new characters and moving the plot from Los Angeles to Paraguay and Asia.
Mann had never attempted a novel before, and ended up trying it in part for a similar reason he takes on a particular film: to see if he can do it.
In a way, he approached the book as if he were planning a film production. He started with a basic story – he likes to know in advance how the plot will end – and expanded the narrative outwards over time and space. He speaks of creating an “almost cinematic momentum” for his novel, a symphony that pushes towards the final battle.
Heat 2 allowed him to explore and digress in ways he wouldn’t attempt on screen. He attaches great importance to knowing the inner and outer life of everyone. For example, he sees McCauley as a longtime outsider who became institutionalized in his early teens. He sees him as “very intelligent” with a “really strong ego and very low self-esteem”. An ideal criminal.
“He goes straight into violence, zero to 60,” explains Mann.
One of the most famous films to never earn an Oscar nomination, Heat has a base of obsessive admirers. Following a special screening in June at the Tribeca Film Festival, viewers called out lines from the film during a panel discussion with Pacino and De Niro. Mann says fans often come up to him and quote from the famous coffee shop conversation between McCauley and Hanna, the first time Pacino and De Niro had shared screen time (they had previously appeared at different time periods in The Godfather, Part II) .
For Mann, Heat 2 is a departure from novels by other filmmakers in recent years, including Werner Herzog, Brian De Palma and David Cronenberg. While Herzog’s The Twilight World and De Palma’s Are Snakes Needed? are original stories, Mann does a kind of reversal by taking characters created for the screen and fitting them to the page.
Rather than finding it a distraction to think of Pacino when describing Hanna, he embraces the merging of actor and character.
“They refused. It’s an amalgamation. They’re one and the same,” he says. “Vincent Hanna is Al Pacino and Al Pacino is Vincent Hanna. Neil McCauley in 1988 is Bobby (De Niro) seven years younger . . . Since I was shooting the film and looking for Al Pacino, De Niro and Val Kilmer, you can bet these are those people.”
Mann has worked in film and television since the 1970s, whether writing episodes for Starsky and Hutch, executive producing the show Miami Vice, or directing The Insider, Manhunter, and Public Enemies.
He’s a Chicago native who says his view of the world — “a kind of cynical worldview, I think” — was shaped by his experiences growing up as the son of inner-city grocers. He cites The French Connection and its director, William Friedkin, as favorites, and jokes that filmmakers like himself and Friedkin who grew up in Chicago itself end up making crime stories, while those from the suburbs (like the late John Hughes) prefer comedy.
The first of three planned novels (one of which may be related to Heat), Heat 2 is an ambitious literary start for a man who had never attempted a novel before.
He studied English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and considered becoming a teacher, but decided it would be “really immensely boring.” When asked about his literary influences, he mentions John le Carre but otherwise says he doesn’t read crime fiction. Instead, he searches for “primary sources,” the various killers, crooks, law enforcement officers, and government agents he has met and befriended and whose stories he has adapted for Heat, Thief, and other films.
Critics and other directors have praised his complex narratives and talent for pacing and atmosphere: Christopher Nolan has credited Heat as the inspiration for his acclaimed Batman film The Dark Knight. But some of Mann’s favorite feedback comes from these “primary sources.” He smiles when asked what some of his characters’ real-life models have said when they’ve seen his films.
“I was offered alternative careers,” he says.