Looking Back Twenty Years: Heat (1995)

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.

That’s a conversation between Al Pacino‘s L.A.P.D. Robbery-Homicide Detective Lt. Vincent Hanna and Robert De Niro‘s Neil McCauley, a man who takes down scores. It is about halfway into Michael Mann‘s 1995 hit movie Heat. The film came out on December 15, 1995. Yes that is near the end of the year – but it still fits into my Looking Back 20 Years series.

This is the third film in the series. I opened in January with The American President. I followed with Casino in February. Heat is basically the eternal story of cops and robbers, but that is a bit too simplistic. Beside the armored car robbery, the bank heist, and the planning and plotting by both the police and the crew of hardened criminals, there’s a strong character study.

Hanna is the all or nothing detective. He’s already burned through two marriages, and his present and third marriage has already pushed off from level ground to be now racing toward its inevitable conclusion – much like a ski jumper sliding down the slope before lifting into free fall and possibly oblivion.

McCauley is his mirror image on the other side of the transaction. He’s been to jail and he’s not going back into the system – no matter what. He is a man of discipline.

He and Vincent Hanna met face to face and in person when Hanna pulled over McCauley’s car. Rather than provoke something more serious, Hanna simply says, Why don’t you let me buy you a cup of coffee?

So they’re sitting in the diner. This is the first time that Al Pacino and Robert De Niro have ever been in the same scene in any movie together talking. It is two guys talking about life –

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?

One guy is a cop and one guy is a crook. They look normal, but what is normal?

Vincent Hanna: So you never wanted a regular type life?
Neil McCauley: What the fuck is that? Barbeques and ballgames?

It goes like that. There’s a certain amount of respect between them. Not that it is offered or accepted. It is just they way it is. It is not quite admiration, but rather it is more like they each know that each of them will play the cards they are dealt, when that times comes… even if it results in the last breath one of them will ever take.

Vincent Hanna: You know, we are sitting here, you and I, like a couple of regular fellas. You do what you do, and I do what I gotta do. And now that we’ve been face to face, if I’m there and I gotta put you away, I won’t like it. But I tell you, if it’s between you and some poor bastard whose wife you’re gonna turn into a widow, brother, you are going down.
Neil McCauley: There is a flip side to that coin. What if you do got me boxed in and I gotta put you down? Cause no matter what, you will not get in my way. We’ve been face to face, yeah. But I will not hesitate. Not for a second.

There it is. No quarter asked and no quarter given.

They’re both about what they do and nothing much else matters. Try this conversation between Hanna and his wife Justine who is played with icy bitterness by Diane Venora:

Justine Hanna: I guess the earth shattered?
Vincent Hanna: So why didn’t you let Bosko take you home?
Justine Hanna: I didn’t wanna ruin their night too. What was it?
Vincent Hanna: You don’t wanna know.
Justine Hanna: I’d like to know what’s behind that grim look on your face.
Vincent Hanna: I don’t do that. You know it. Let’s go, come on.
Justine Hanna: You never told me I’d be excluded.
Vincent Hanna: I told you, when we hooked up, baby, that you were gonna have to share me with all the bad people and all the ugly events on this planet.
Justine Hanna: And I bought into that sharing. Because I love you. I love you fat, bald, money, no money, driving a bus – I don’t care. But you have got to be present like a normal guy, some of the time. That’s sharing. This is not sharing, this is left overs.
Vincent Hanna: Oh, I see, what I should do is, er, come home and say “Hi honey! Guess what? I walked into this house today, where this junkie asshole just fried his baby in a microwave, because it was crying too loud. So let me share that with you. Come on, let’s share that, and in sharing it, we’ll somehow, er, cathartically dispel all that heinous shit”. Right?
[pause]
Vincent Hanna: Wrong.

Or this comment by Hanna:

Vincent Hanna: I gotta hold on to my angst. I preserve it because I need it. It keeps me sharp, on the edge, where I gotta be.

Or one by Justine:

Justine Hanna: You prefer the normal routine. We fuck, then you lose the power of speech.

McCauley to Eady played by Amy Brenneman:

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

McCauley to Eady:

Neil McCauley: I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore. I know life is short, whatever time you get is luck. You want to walk? You walk right now. Or on your own… on your own you choose to come with me. And all I know is… all I know is there’s no point in me going anywhere anymore if it’s going to be alone… without you.

And that is one of the understated but most important keys to the film. Both guys do what they do. Hanna can’t share everything with Justine because his police work is too much to share, too dark, too bizarre, and most of the time, it involves evil beyond description or at least beyond sharing.

McCauley likes women, but he doesn’t like leaving them. But his discipline is all he has –

Neil McCauley: I do what I do best, I take scores. You do what you do best, try to stop guys like me.

Vincent Hanna: It’s like you said. All I am is what I’m going after.

At the end of the day Michael Mann, who directed and wrote the script, has given us a long, exciting thrill ride behind bank jobs, armored car heists and the police work needed to contain or stop it. There’s nothing glamorous about either of these men. I don’t want their lives.

But for the 171 minutes of Heat – I will step inside of their worlds, again and again. I come out as I was, but when McCauley and Hanna’s paths crossed – neither of them will come out the same. Next time you are stuck in the house because of the snow, or the rain, or you’re simply too tired to go out – toss this one into your DVD player and feel the Heat.

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8 thoughts on “Looking Back Twenty Years: Heat (1995)

  1. This is such a fantastic film from Michael Mann! The dialog, esp between Deniro & Pacino are excellent, I really should rewatch this one soon.

    • Well, I won’t say that you must see this film again, the again you really ought to. You know it has been said that young detectives as well as younger crews have each modeled themselves after De Niro and Pacino. They may be actors but haven’t they set the standards?

      Thanks for the comment Ruth!

  2. God, I love this movie! There might be better Michael Mann films, but for me, this is it. HEAT is annual viewing in my household. This year, especially, with its 20th anniversary. Excellent tribute, Mike.

  3. I saw Heat in the cinema twice, back in ’95, and the diner scene is still one of the most exciting moments of my life as a movie fan (I still remember seeing it for the first time in the movie theatre, thinking to myself, “Wow, how great is this?”).
    It’s also one of those scenes in a movie where if I’m flicking channels, and I know it’s coming up soon, I’ll always wait around for 15 or 20 minutes just to watch it again.

    • I think I outspent you on this. I paid the cost of a ticket to see it omn 86th Street on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and I bought the DVD = but who is counting?
      I am in full agreement that this is a film that can be watched again and again/ Thanks for the comment Paul.

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