Why Heat 2 Had to Be a Novel: Michael Mann’s Sequel to His Classic Crime-Movie

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Two of the toughest men in Los Angeles are holding hands while one of them passes out on the edge of the tarmac at LAX, and that is how it must end. Neil McCauley, a mastermind of bank robberies and heists, and Vincent Hanna, a lieutenant in the LAPD’s Major Crimes Unit, engaged in a calm conversation over a cup of coffee for the better part of two and a half hours. However, these urban jungle’s top predators have now achieved their climax, and before McCauley leaves this earthly coil, the cop and the criminal enjoy one last intimate moment. The fact that Robert De Niro and Al Pacino play them just makes the transaction more enticing.

Right before the closing credits, we leave the twin anti-heroes of Heat, the sweeping criminal drama directed by Michael Mann in 1995. Taken from a true story (told to Mann by Chicago detective Chuck Adamson, who brought down the real McCauley), it is the ideal fade-out of a movie devoted to the type of game-recognizes-game professionalism and Zen machismo that the writer-director traffics in. It is rooted in an authenticity regarding what these men do and who they are as if, in Mann’s universe, there is any difference between the two. The director, nodding to himself as he recalls the scene over a Zoom conversation, claims that McCauley is dissipating “while in contact with the only other person who genuinely understands him.” Ironically, that was also the individual who murdered him.

Heat is nearing its conclusion, Mann continues. But this is truly Heat’s opening scene. I had the epiphany that I could make this movie when that conclusion crossed my mind.

You are aware that the rest is OK. However, neither the film’s canonization as a modern crime-cinema masterpiece nor the fervent cult following that still surrounds it made it seem like a sequel would ever be an option. What happens when one of your key chess players gets knocked off the board for good? However, Mann’s imagination for the characters and their blue-hued SoCal underworld never quite faded. He had developed lengthy back tales for these fake individuals before phoning Action, so he was fully aware of Neil, Vincent, and their separate crews. He could describe in detail their upbringing, the jails they served time in, how they met, and the locations of their high-stakes thieving or law enforcement apprenticeships. The director never completely gave up on the concept of maybe returning to Heats cops and robbers one day, even when he moved on to depict other tales of stoic killers on the rough streets of Los Angeles (Collateral) or about law enforcement officers pushed to the breaking point (Miami Vice). He could see into their early years, before that bank robbery turned downtown Los Angeles into a battlefield. Or he may go ahead to the events that followed Vincent and Neil’s final farewell.

Or perhaps he would just do both. Following Vincent Hanna as he wraps up loose ends and Val Kilmer’s character Chris Shiherlis, the last surviving member of McCauley’s close-knit group, as he tries to avoid the law, Heat 2 picks up immediately after that fateful confrontation near to the airport’s runway. But it also flashes back to 1988, when Chris first saw Charlene (played by Ashley Judd in the original), and Neil andamp; Co. caught up with another gang of criminals in Chicago, commanded by a psychotic rapist who was being sought by a Windy City detective who just so happens to be Hanna. It also brings us into the dawn of the twenty-first century, just as crime is evolving from localized offenses into something more intricate and global.

It’s a really thrilling expansion of the movie’s universe, with stops in Mexico, Paraguay, Vietnam, and Las Vegas as well as some absolutely jaw-dropping, gun-filled action pieces, including a siege on a cartel-run motel south of the border. Furthermore, it isn’t a movie, at least not yet: Along with seasoned crime author Meg Gardiner, Mann co-wrote Heat 2 as a novel. (On August 9, it becomes available for purchase online and on book shelves.) When asked if there was anything specific that made him decide to revisit these characters nearly 30 years after the film’s debut, he responds, “No.” Considering that neither they nor I truly ever left the other.

HEAT 2 Book Cover

What about Heat 2 being a book? In college, Mann declares, I was originally majoring in English literature. Before realizing I wanted to produce movies, I once thought I wanted to be a writer. But in reality, all I do is write. I’m always authoring, whether I’m writing with a camera, with actors’ performances, words, or anything else. And a novel provided me with a sizable canvas on which to execute this.

To put it another way, the page gave him the freedom to write about, say, a huge combat breaking out without having to worry about the cost of filming it? Exactly. With a movie, you just have two hours to engage viewers and leave a lasting impression. With a book, you can take many detours that pertain to character development and shift back and forth in time in various ways. Why should you be modest? I didn’t have to act so modestly. And what made it so meaningful to me was the scope and ambition of it.

With nearly 500 pages of intersecting plots, three different timelines, locales all over the world, and a big cast of people, Heat 2 is nothing if not ambitious. Mann was aware of the story—or rather, stories—he intended to tell, but he felt like he needed assistance. He met Meg Gardiner, an acclaimed novelist well known for her Evan Delaney trilogy, through his literary agent Shane Salerno. Mann was a major fan of his writing, especially Heat, and had read her 2017 book Unsub, which is about a female investigator pursuing a serial killer. Gardiner, who is calling from her Austin, Texas, home, adds, “And I’d always wanted to write a heist thriller.” What better opportunity to achieve that exists than with these people, in that setting?

An appointment for a phone call was made, and Mann and Gardiner spoke for many hours about the direction he intended to take Neil, Vincent, and Chris, the importance of making it both a prequel and a sequel, and how they could broaden the Heat universe. Michael is obviously a really skilled writer, says Gardiner. He was entering a new field since up until this point, all of his work had been scripts or teleplays. I believe he wanted to collaborate on this with a seasoned novelist, preferably a crime novelist. But he already knew how the narrative would end. I believe he has been considering this for a very long time.

Once she agreed, Mann started giving Gardiner a lot of the research he had acquired when he first started making the 1995 movie. Because the Heat universe truly is a universe, I wanted to include her in it, he claims. I had kept everything, so the research I had done on Neil McCauley—which I had given Bobby “De Niro” to help him get into character—as well as the materials I had collected on Vincent and Chris for Val Kilmer—were all stills from videos or transcripts of the work we had done. With that material, I essentially dumped Meg into the deep end of the pool.

The year 2000 sections, in which Chris and his literal partner in crime, a Chinese woman named Ana Liu, started establishing a separate network to move international contraband through strictly digital means, were being researched by Mann while Gardiner started digging deeply into the older material. When he was in Japan working on Tokyo Vice and Gardiner was in Austin, they would start discussing various chapters of the book while chatting via email and exchanging Word documents. Mann likens it to the collaborative process he and his lifelong buddy, screenwriter Eric Roth, used when working on films like The Insider and Ali.

He claims it is complimentary. It’s not like I’ll write the words with odd numbers and you’ll type the ones with even numbers. We’d write up alternate chapters and trade them after I complete a lot of the labor-intensive structural work in terms of the tale and how we’re going to convey it strategically. Look, I’ve been on these three pages for two days now,” I’d say when I was stuck on something. Could you try your hand at this? Also the opposite.

By the time we were finished, Gardiner adds, we weren’t just switching chapters. Hey, can you take this scene? was a phrase we frequently used over the phone. Can you please take that scene? What do you think about these next two paragraphs? There were also instances where he would ask, “Can you look up significant thoracic injuries and what the recovery period is for that?” I want to finish this paragraph I’m working on today. Or, perhaps: How exactly does a Marine platoon conduct an ambush? Who should we contact regarding GPS spoofing?

She continues, chuckling, “And let’s just say Michael is known for the amount of research he does, and that legend is true. To learn how one might actually pull off a tunnel operation, I spoke with a bank robber for a few hours. A figure is seen in the book ascending a rope ladder on the side of a ship that is at sea. I told Michael that I’m having some difficulty getting it perfect because I want it to feel authentic when I write it. Hold on, I’ll email you some pictures of myself doing it, he said in response.

Gardiner was finally able to travel to Los Angeles and meet Mann in the summer of 2021 after a year of working remotely. She claims, “I had my face-to-face meeting.” With him, I created my own Vincent-Neil coffee shop setting! While they were there, Mann set up some late-night ride-alongs for Gardiner with two LAPD sergeants through some of the city’s less desirable neighborhoods. He also introduced her to a professional criminal who had served as an advisor on his 2009 Dillinger film Public Enemies. She claims the experience had a significant impact on their modifications, particularly the book’s conclusion, which sends several of the protagonists back to the City of Angels for a final, climactic shoot-out. It serves as a wonderful reminder that, like the movie, this is a tale about people who live and die in Los Angeles.

The initial idea of two sides of the same coin is expanded in Heat 2 while maintaining the same level of precise detail. Mann himself refers to Heat 2 as the worldwide version of Heat. Mann claims that Chris Shiherlis would claim they were the best at what they did, which was essentially acting like 19th-century bandits, if you asked him what he was doing with Neil McCauley in 1995. By the end of the book, he is in a very different setting. He has also demonstrated his capacity to innovate in that field.

Therefore, it begs the obvious question: Will we ever get to see that universe on screen? Mann giggles and makes gestures in all directions while zooming in. I’m focusing on this right now, referring to his apartment in Modena, Italy, where he’s going to begin filming the drama about sports car tycoon Enzo Ferrari titled Ferrari, starring Adam Driver and Penelope Cruz. But I would definitely love to direct a Heat 2 movie.

So a movie adaptation of the book is in the works?

Mann pauses to consider his next move. Plans do exist, but I am unable to discuss them, he finally acknowledges. But if we do it, we’ll make a huge out of it.

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